Thyme & Seasons, China Bayles’ herb shop in Pecan Springs TX, is a long way from her career as a criminal defense attorney in Houston.
But the sweet life turns sour when a friend is found dead (is it suicide? is it murder?) and China uncovers a stash of torrid love letters. Her investigation is aided and abetted by flamboyant redhead Ruby Wilcox, owner of the only New Age shop in Pecan Springs, and ex-cop boyfriend Mike McQuaid, now a professor of criminal justice at the local university.
Nominated for both an Agatha and an Anthony for Best First Mystery, Thyme of Death has become a perennial favorite of mystery readers, the launching point of a series that has continued, with annual releases, for over two decades.
Thyme is commonly found both in the kitchen and the medicine cabinet. It has been used for centuries to preserve and season food and as a cough remedy, a digestive aid, and an antiseptic. In the Middle Ages, the herb was thought to be an antidote against fear, while seventeenth-century herbalist Nicolas Culpeper believed it to be a “certain remedy for that troublesome complaint, the nightmare.”
Thyme served as a battlefield antibiotic during World War I, and in World War II, when the Russians could not obtain other antibiotics, they substituted thyme as “Russian penicillin.”
Praise for The China Bayles Herbal Mysteries
Such a joy…an instant friend.”
—Carolyn G. Hart
“Witty, sharp, and entirely her own woman.”
“A marvelous addition to the ranks of amateur detectives.”
Reading Group Guides: Thyme of Death – Book 1
Discussion questions for Thyme of Death
Warning! Contains spoilers (plot hints).
- Thyme of Death introduces the central characters in what has become a long-running series: China Bayles, Ruby Wilcox, and Mike McQuaid. Describe these characters as you see them. What are their major issues? How does this play out in their relationships in this book?
- This book is set in a small Texas town, halfway between Austin and San Antonio, on the edge of the Texas Hill Country. Does the town seem real to you? When you read a book, how important is the setting to your enjoyment of the story?
- The mystery in Thyme of Death has to do with a relationship that ended bitterly some time before. How does this old relationship poison the present? Do you know of real-life instances where a former relationship has caused problems?
- As an herbalist, gardener, and shopkeeper, China is unique among amateur sleuths. (Rather, she was, when this series began in 1992. Similar characters have appeared in the years since, perhaps because of China’s popularity.) Does China’s interest in herbs add to your interest in the book? Why or why not?
- China is a former criminal lawyer. How does this shape her character and the way she exeriences the events of this story?
- This book (and the entire series) is written in the first person, from China’s point of view. What advantages and disadvantages do you see in this? How would this book have been different if the story had been told from another character’s point of view?
Your reading group might enjoy refreshments made from some of Susan’s recipe collection. You can check out the recipes at the back of most of the books, at Thyme for Tea or in one of the monthly Tea Parties. Or you can try this recipe, which is related to the book’s theme or signature herb:
Thymely Cream of Carrot Soup
In Pecan Springs, Texas, soup always seems to taste better in the winter—but this thymely soup is good hot or chilled. Serve it to 4-6.
- 2 pounds carrots, chopped
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 4 tblsp butter or margarine
- 6 cups chicken stock
- a bouquet garni made with 6 parsley sprigs, 3 thyme sprigs, and a sprig of marjoram tied together with string
- 1 cup half/half (no-fat is fine)
- salt and pepper
- 2 tblsp chopped parsley leaves
- 1 tblsp chopped thyme leaves
Over low heat, saute the carrots and onion in the butter or margarine in a covered soup pot until soft, about 15 minutes. Add the stock and heat to a simmer. Add the bouquet garni and simmer 20 minutes. Take out the bouqet garni and puree the soup in two or three batches. Add half and half and reheat. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and serve, garnished with chopped thyme and parsley. To serve cold, chill for several hours and garnish with a dollop of yogurt and the chopped herbs.