Dead Man’s Bones – Book 13

“In this gently narrated cozy, a skeleton in a cave allows China to think about archaeology, forensics, love affairs, immigration, and secrets from the past. An enjoyable journey as China makes the necessary connections one by one.”

Texas ex-lawyer and herbalist China Bayles digs into murders past and present, as a dead man’s bones are uncovered-and a community gathering is interrupted by murder…

China Bayles already has her hands full balancing her job, her family, and her friends’ romantic entanglements. Then her teenage son finds some skeletal remains during a local cave dig-remains from a not-so-distant, not-so-accidental death.

Dead Man’s Bones

“Dead Man’s Bones” is the folk name given to the herb Greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea), a perennial plant found in damp, shady places throughout Europe. It grows to about three feet, with long, dagger-shaped leaves. The starry white blossoms appear in late spring, when thickets of the blooming plant brighten the shady woods. The herb’s common name, “Greater Stitchwort,” comes from its traditional use to ease pain (a “stitch”) in the side. The plant seems to have been called “Dead Man’s Bones” because the stems fracture easily, like old bones.

Stitchwort’s North American cousin, Stellaria media, appears in yards everywhere, and has a great many traditional uses. It is better known by its common name, chickweed.


Praise for The China Bayles Herbal Mysteries

“China’s warmth and sensitivity…endear her to readers, while her investigative skills make her a leader among female sleuths…A leisurely cozy with a Southwestern flair.”
Publishers Weekly

“A diabolically clever sleuth…China and Ruby make Batman and Robin look like amateurs.”
Harriet Klausner

“Add another fragrant bloom to the dozen already in the bouquet of Albert’s herbal cozies.”
Publishers Weekly

“A nicely constructed plot, captivating characters and dialogue.”
Library Journal


Reading Group Guides: Dead Man’s Bones – book 13

Discussion Questions – Warning! Contains spoilers (plot hints).

  1. China begins this book with some thoughts on “hidden things, things that are enclosed, interior, inner, concealed.” What are some of the hidden things in this book?
  2. Brian’s discovery of the bones begins a plot thread that braids itself into the story of Alana Montoya and into Ruby’s story. How does this work? Trace out the plot events in the story of Brian’s bones that “intersect” with the other plots in this book.
  3. Alana is a forensic anthropologist. In a way, her job is digging up long-buried secrets. What is the skeleton in her closet? How is this related to Blackie Blackwell’s story? To McQuaid’s story?
  4. Max Baumeister is only a supporting actor in the play, but he remembers something essential to finding out the real story of the bones in the cave. Who else remembers a part of the story? Take a look at Chapters 14-17 to see how China fits all these story pieces together. What narrative techniques is Susan using here?
  5. Cassandra Wilde is introduced in this book. What sort of person is she? What does she add to the ensemble of characters in this series? If China and Ruby take her into their “team,” what kind of player do you think she’ll be?
  6. What is “Dead Man’s Bones” (Stellaria holostea)? This herb isn’t very well known, although you probably have its cousin, Stellaria media, or chickweed, growing in your yard. Susan says that she was fascinated by the name of this herb and thought it would make a good book title. She started to play “what if” games with “Dead Man’s Bones,” and let the story grow out of the name. Can you see how she might have done that?

Ruby’s Better Bones Soup
A savory soup made from plants that are are high in protein and calcium–good for your bones!

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cup chopped onions
  • ½ cup carrots, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 14- or 16-ounce can crushed or diced tomatoes
  • 2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 4-ounce can water chestnuts, drained
  • 2 baby bok choy, white and green parts sliced separately
  • ½ pound fresh kale, stems removed, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons mixed dried herbs (try parsley, sage, summer savory, chervil, rosemary)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6-8 ounces hard tofu, cubed

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, sauté onions and carrots for 7-8 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for another minute. Add tomatoes, stock, water chestnuts, bok choy (white parts), bay leaf, and herbs and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Add green parts of bok choy and kale and cook until just tender (1-2 minutes). Add tofu and cook another 1-2 minutes. Remove bay leaf and serve hot. Makes 6-8 servings.