Thursday, September 27, 2007

Herbs, Mysteries, and More

Pecan Springs (Texas … of course) is the location for most of these mysteries. China Bayles is the sleuth. She left a law practice in Houston to move here and open an herb shop. These mysteries were written by Susan Wittig Albert. If you look at the titles in this mystery series, you will see the connection to herbs – hence China Bayles Herbal Mystery Series. However you will find the title has a lot to do with the mystery – it is not just an herb.

I just finished reading the fifteenth (and latest) book in this series – Spanish Dagger. I am not all that familiar with herbs so I would not have known this was an herb. But having read the previous books in the series, I realize it must be a herb. While reading the book (and the previous ones) I quickly learn what the herb is from our herb shop owner (and sleuth) China Bayles and friends. This is one of the things I like about this series-the theme it is developed around – herbs. Not only do I get a mystery but I learn things about herbs, their uses, and recipes using various herbs.

As I said before, the title also has a lot to do with the mystery as well. The first murder was discovered when China and her guest were collecting supplies for papermaking. They were in the midst of Spanish Daggers and other related yucca plants. (I was not aware until I read this book that some parts of cactus make good paper making materials.) But this does not end the connection with Spanish Dagger – a dagger was used in another murder in the book. And finally, Spanish dagger was the name of a drug sting operation. This drug operation had its connections with the two murders. It was China’s investigation of the first murder and then the second murder that leads to the break in the drug sting.

Another thing I like in the China Bayles mystery series is the way the author develops the character as a “human”. These characters are presented as more than just another character in the book (or later in the series). A good example is China Bayles’ bst friend and business partner – Ruby Wilcox. She is usually a driving or guiding force into solving these mysteries because of the nature of her character. She still plays a part in this one as well. However we see the “human” side of Ruby as she deals with problems with her mother out of town and the murder of one of her friends. She becomes a more “believable” character.

I thoroughly enjoyed this series by Susan Wittig Albert. For those interested, she has a website with her husband (and author Bill Albert) at . You can find out some more about her other books and blogs here.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Discovering J.A.Jance

Let me start off by saying I am NOT a writer – that claim (or honor) belongs to others such as J.A.Jance and J.D.Robb (my wife’s favorite author). I am sure you have already figured out that I am a mystery reader – although some things I might consider mysteries I may be pushing it a little to far. So why would it be a surprise that I have read J.A. Jance?

Well, let me tell you what factors I use to pick what I read. As you might have noticed, I am in Texas. As a matter of fact, I am a native Texan. So it may come as no surprise to you that I am especially fond of Texas writers. I like to read mysteries by Texas writers – particularly those mysteries occurring in Texas (but not always) and involving a Texas sleuth. Now I do not choose these to read because of my big Texas ego – I do not think I have one. One of the reasons I like these is because of familiarity. Mysteries are fiction but the places they occur are sometimes real places even though (using a familiar phrase that might date me) “the names have been changed”. When I am reading these mysteries I can visualize the places they are happening since I know some about Texas – it is where I live. This is one of the key factors to how I choose what I read.

I also mentioned another factor – the sleuth. The mystery does not have to occur in Texas necessarily. But if I can relate to or picture the sleuth then I will read the mystery. One thing fascinating to me is who can be a sleuth. They do not have to be professionals – they can be amateurs as well. This is one of the reasons I use the word “sleuth” which does not imply a professional. So if the sleuth is a Texan there usually is some things familiar in the mystery – even if the place is not necessarily familiar.

Again.., how did I come to read J.A.Jance? Well…, I was in the bookstore getting the latest book by a Texas mystery writer and looking for another Texas mystery writer. This is when I came across J.A. Jance and Joanna Brady who was the wife of a law enforcement officer in Cochise County, Arizona. This is what drew my attention. My wife and her family were from that area in Arizona so I am a little familiar with the place. (Besides…, I thought perhaps my wife might be interested in reading this series since it takes place in her old stomping grounds.) Once I read the first book in the Joanna Brady series I liked the character – so I am reading more in the series.

Now this brings up another thing I like in mysteries – the series. Once I read one book in a series I like, I want to read more. A series allows you to learn more about the sleuth. In addition ro the continual development of the sleuth, the author does the same for other characters in the book. I like characters with character. This is one of the things Jance does with the Joanna Brady series and she does it well.

I have read one other book of hers in a series about Ali Reynolds. I will continue to read this series which takes place in the general area of Sedona, Arizona. My wife went to school in Flagstaff and I am a little familiar with this area.

Jance has written one more series I am aware of but have not read yet – the J.P. Beaumont series. It takes place in California. As I understand it (from another person who reads Jance) Beaumont and Brady will work together in another book – which series I do not know. So I imagine I will read the Beaumont series as well. Oh …, did you know there is a city in Texas called Beaumont? And, on a hunch, I just found out there is a Texas city called Brady – imagine that!!!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Blog Inspiration- Alison Reynolds

I read a book for Firewheel Mystery Book Discussion Group. It is called "Edge of Evil" by J.A. Jance. It is the first in a series of books with Alison Reynolds a TV journalist in California. She gets "let go" and goes back to her home in Sedona, AZ. While there, her son sets up a blog for her. This gave me the idea about setting up a mystery reader blog. It would be another way to discuss mystery books. It obviously is not the same as being in a mystery book discussion group. In the discussion group other things may be discussed as well such as movies. However this blog adds another dimension to being able to discuss these books. Maybe this blog will be another avenue for discussions by our mystery book discussion group. After reading this book, I am anticipating the next book in this series.