cover image Mistletoe Man

Mistletoe Man

Susan Wittig Albert. Berkley Prime Crime, $21.95 (296pp) ISBN 978-0-425-17673-3

""I'll be home for Christmas,"" croons the old, sweet song. Fans of Albert's herbalist-attorney-sleuth, China Bayles, who have been lauding her spicy mysteries since Thyme of Death nine books ago, will feel they've come home (to delightful Pecan Springs, Tex.) with this ebullient yarn set during the Christmas season. The pace is peppy as a Texas two-step, Albert's dialogue and characterizations put her in a class with lady sleuths V.I. Warshawski and Stephanie Plum and her writing sparkles like Rudolph's nose. China has left the chaos of a Houston law firm to buy a century-old stone mansion, which now houses a tearoom (Thyme for Tea), an herb shop (Thyme and Seasons) and a New Age ""Cave"" run by her best friend, Ruby Wilcox. Business is booming, an inspired new chef has appeared and China's personal life is nearing perfection. But suddenly, Ruby suffers a personal disaster and disappears, while China's mistletoe supplier, cantankerous Carl Swenson, dies in a hit and run. Since the suspects in Carl's death are her flower growers - and friends - she puts on her 10-gallon detective's hat and begins to track the killer. Throughout this intricately plotted and deliciously descriptive tale, China proves herself intelligent, independent, persistent and compassionate. In the tradition begun with Thyme of Death, Albert shows great empathy for the ill - and little patience for layabouts and lawbreakers. This is a funny, human story that will give Albert's admirers a ringing jingle bell romp. 10-city author tour. (Oct.)