by Susan Wittig Albert

The Penguin Group of Berkley Publishing Group, 2009. ISBN 978-0-425-22609-4.
Reviewed by Rhonda Esakov
Posted on 09/01/2009

Fiction: Historical; Fiction: Mystery

"The Wormwoods...belong to the genus Artemesia, a group consisting of 180 species...is remarkable for the extreme bitterness of all parts of the plant." (ref. A Modern Herbal, 1931 by Mrs. M. Griev) The book, Wormwood, by Susan Wittig Albert, may be somewhat of a departure from the normal China Bayles mystery, but it is definitely not bitter in any of its parts as we savor this herbal mystery like a finely brewed cup of tea.

The past few weeks have taken a toll on China; first the discovery of a half-brother she hadn't know about, and then his subsequent tragic murder. (See Nightshade) She is beyond frazzled and as Cass, her business partner and friend puts it, "..the rest of us agree that you have become increasingly egotistical, arrogant, and overbearing, and that you need some time off to regain your humility and sweetness of spirit." Now China is going off on a two week jaunt to visit an historic Shaker Village and teach herbal lore with a friend of her mother's named Martha, whom she met while helping her mother with Aunt Tullie in Jordan's Crossing, Mississippi (see Bloodroot). Little does China know that the easy, relaxing getaway she has planned will turn into another action packed murder mystery that she will be asked to investigate.

Over the years, the character of our heroine has evolved so that a foray on her own without the usual cohorts will show us that a troupe of new characters make for an exciting twist in Albert's writing. Interspersed within the tale are flashes from the lives and journal excerpts of the Shakers who lived at (fictional) Mount Zion, Kentucky. Rich with herbal lore and history, Wormwood gives us a glimpse of Shaker communities that were outwardly portrayed as peaceful, almost like a Garden of Eden. With the finesse of a master composer, Albert has her character plunge into the troubled history of the colony to connect the current day problems with the misdeeds of the past.

Herb fanciers will love the lore and recipes included within the story and followers of the China Bayles series will enjoy a refreshing sojourn into another aspect of her character while meeting new friends that we hope will return to visit in Pecan Springs.

Susan Wittig Albert grew up on a farm in Illinois and earned her Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley. A former professor of English and a university administrator and vice president, she is the author of the China Bayles Mysteries and a family-friendly mystery series set in the early 1900s featuring Beatrix Potter. She and her husband, Bill, coauthor a series of Victorian-Edwardian mysteries under the name of Robin Paige. The Alberts live near Austin, Texas. Visit their website and Susan's blog.

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