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A Dilly of a Death    by Susan Wittig Albert order for
Dilly of a Death
by Susan Wittig Albert
Order:  USA  Can
Berkley, 2004 (2004)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I always enjoy the chance to while away a few hours with ex-lawyer/herbalist China Bayles in the cozy context of Pecan Springs, Texas, where murder is too often an unwelcome intruder. Each tale stars an herb as well as a mystery, and in A Dilly of a Death, we learn not only about dill, but all about pickling and pickles - both fascinating facts and a plethora of puns.

The story opens on a couple of surprises for China. First McQuaid announces a career move from lecturer to PI. He's already taken on a client, Phoebe Morgan, the local 'Pickle Queen' (as one of the 'Pretty Pickle Planners', China has already had more dealings than she wants with Phoebe, while helping to organize the annual PickleFest). Then Ruby's immature prodigal daughter Amy (who shares her mom's flamboyance) arrives on China's doorstep, announcing her pregnancy (but not divulging the dad) and looking for a place to stay. She proves a surprisingly helpful houseguest, even offering to fix up Brian's pet tarantula with a mate. On top of all this, China and Ruby both worry about their friend 'Smart Cookie' Sheila who is about to lose her job as chief of police, because of a recent series of unsolved burglaries, in one of which the elderly victim died.

It turns out the PickleFest is not to be. Not only does the weather refuse to cooperate - erupting in 'a gol-durned, gosh-amighty, jim-dandy gully washer' - but the chief organizer disappears. It's a pretty pickle indeed and soon China is up to her elbows again in a murder investigation that eventually pulls together all the plot threads as tidily as a nosegay of China's herbs. As usual, the characters are colorful and fun (I especially enjoyed Aunt Lunelle of the 'Big Hair') and the tale well told by an author who excels at the sub-genre. Recipes and herbal information are interspersed through the text, with additional 'Resources and Recipes' at the back. A Dilly of a Death is a delightful addition to the series, and I look forward to spending more time in Pecan Springs, and watching its inhabitants move on with their lives.

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