Wormwood – Book 17

“Quirky, enlightening and surprisingly profound, Albert’s China Bayles mysteries are an absolute delight to read: head and shoulders above most other amateur whodunits.”
Ransom Notes

China Bayles and her friend Martha Edmond travel to Mount Zion Shaker Village in northern Kentucky, a reconstruction of a Shaker village that existed from the 1820s to 1923. Martha’s great-aunt Charity, a Shaker sister, mysteriously left the village in 1912—Martha would dearly love to know the reason. But an even larger mystery is brewing at Mount Zion, and when one of Martha’s friends turns up dead, everyone wants answers.

Through Shaker narrators, documents, journals, and newspaper clippings, we learn the real story behind the catastrophic crisis that the village faced at the beginning of its final decade—and the crisis it faces today. In the end, China can finally tell Martha the reason her aunt exiled herself from the Shaker life she loved. But will she be able to name a killer?

Wormwood
The Wormwoods . . . belong to the genus Artemisia, a group consisting of 180 species, of which we have four growing wild in England, the Common Wormwood, Mugwort, Sea Wormwood and Field Wormwood. In addition, as garden plants, though not native, Tarragon (A. dracunculus) claims a place in every herb-garden, and Southernwood (A. abrotanum), an old-fashioned favourite, is found in many borders . . . The whole family is remarkable for the extreme bitterness of all parts of the plant.

Mrs. M. Grieve, A Modern Herbal, 1931

Read Chapter 1 – Wormwood

Download or print Susan’s list of Shaker herbs, as well as several Shaker medicinal recipes and a list of books about the Shakers.

Shaker garden plan.

Praise for The China Bayles Herbal Mysteries

“China’s followers will delight in the complicated relationships, recipes and historical flower information.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“Engaging . . . Shaker-inspired recipes, excerpts from a fictional Shaker journal, insights into the Shaker religion and plenty of herbal lore enhance another winner from this dependable veteran.”
—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

Reading Group Guides: Wormwood – Book 17

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

  1. What did you most like about this book? The characters? The setting? The plot?
  2. The setting is a critical element in this mystery. Have you ever visited a Shaker village? If so, did the descriptions of Mount Zion ring true for you? What do you think are the most important parts of the setting?
  3. The story of Mount Zion is told in two separate plots. One story consists of the mystery that’s set in present time, where China Bayles is challenged to discover the identity of the person who’s causing trouble for the village. See if you can summarize that plot, which begins in Chapter 3, with Martha’s story about problems at the village. What happens first? Next? After that? How does this story end?
  4. The second story of Mount Zion consists of a mystery set in the past. This story is told in alternating chapters (2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 12, 14, 16, 17, 18, and 20). It opens with an important conflict over property: a neighbor, Will Ayers, claims to own the spring and the area around Zion’s Pool. What other conflicts do you find among the characters in this story?
  5. The two plots are separate through most of the book, but come together near the end, when China resolves both through her “detective” work. Were you satisfied with these resolutions?
  6. Throughout, the image of the Shaker village is that of the Garden of Eden. What are some of the ironies in this image?
  7. Every China Bayles book has a “signature” herb. What do you think about the choice of wormwood as the signature herb for this book? Why do you think the author chose it? In this connection, what do you make of the headnote to Chapter Five?
  8. There is a great deal of Shaker history and lore in this book, as well as entries from Shaker journals, advertisements from Shaker publications, and descriptions of herbs and potions from Shaker catalogs. What do these “extras” add to the story? What did you learn about Shakers that you didn’t know?

Your reading group might enjoy refreshments made from some of Susan’s recipe collection.