cover image INDIGO DYING


Susan Wittig Albert, . . Berkley, $22.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-425-18828-6

This latest accomplished entry in Albert's detective series featuring defense attorney–cum–herbalist China Bayles is both a smalltown murder mystery and a portrait of a Texas community whose existence is threatened by a dispute over mining rights. Bayles, who was also featured in Albert's Bloodroot and Mistletoe Man, has recently become part-owner of a combination herb shop and tea house called Thyme for Tea in tiny Indigo, Tex. But her new life—and the lifestyle of the bohemian entrepreneurs and elderly Indigo natives in the community—is put in jeopardy when Casey Ford, a reviled but powerful Indigo resident, concocts a plan to sell the coal-mining rights to a national conglomerate, a scheme that would allow him to evict most of the store owners in town once the deal is done. Ford is murdered days before he signs the agreement. Bayles and her husband, another former attorney named Mike McQuaid, find themselves stymied in their investigation of the murder by a town full of suspects who close ranks as they celebrate Ford's sudden death. Albert does a nice job of placing believable red herrings in Bayles's way, and she adds colorful details about herbal medicine and the dye business (another of Bayles's specialties). The heart of the book is the detailed depiction of smalltown life in Indigo, which separates the novel from genre fodder by providing a rich context for the mystery. The satisfying ending is icing on the cake, and Albert's impressions of Indigo are likely to stay in readers' minds long after the murder has faded. 9-city author tour. (Jan.)