cover image Rueful Death

Rueful Death

Susan Wittig Albert. Berkley Publishing Group, $21.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-425-15469-4

Early in this intelligent addition to herbalist China Bayles's adventures (Thyme of Death; Rosemary Remembered), one character laments that she has given up reading about women detectives because they are all ""Raymond Chandler in drag.... Lotta guts, no soul."" Wittig takes up the challenge, showing how to do it right with quiet humor and only an occasional overload of introspection. Exhausted by the Christmas season and her new roommates, love interest Mike McQuaid and his 12-year-old son, China takes off for a retreat at St. Theresa's Monastery in Texas's remote and wild Yucca River country with friend Maggie Garrett, a former nun. In spite of its tranquil appearance, the religious order is in a state of turmoil. Having received a legacy worth millions, St. Theresa's has merged with another order which wants to use the money to open a high-powered retreat center. The two sides are hopelessly deadlocked when the Reverend Mother, the tie-breaking vote, dies mysteriously. China agrees to look into the death. Her investigation quickly takes on urgency when threatening events ensue: someone shoots at her, some small fires are set and she finds the deadly herb rue growing in the garden. Even when the stakes seem too high or unlikely for ordinary life, Wittig manages to make them mostly believable, mainly because China's character is credible (when she makes a mistake, she gets embarrassed). Albert gives readers a page-turner and soul to spare. (Nov.)