Today I’ll be featuring another classic Cozy, one that has been recommended many times and, in this case, one that I have read before myself, though years ago at this point, titled Thyme of Death. This is the first book in Susan Wittig Albert‘s China Bayles Mystery Series, which has grown to not only be one of the longest-running mystery series on the site, but also one of the most influential regarding modern Cozies.
Published in 1992, this is definitely the precursor to what I would consider the modern Cozy Mystery. The protagonist, China Bayles, is a former lawyer from the “big city” – in this case, Houston. Hitting a midlife crisis in her late thirties, China decided to give up her law career and follow her old passion of herbal botany, moving to the small (fictional) town of Pecan Springs midway between San Antonio and Austin. Naturally, having made this move a few years ago, she’s already close friends with many of her eccentric neighbors.
All of this might be very standard in modern Cozies, but it wasn’t anywhere near as widespread back when this was released in the early ’90s. I would go so far as to say that this is one of the cornerstones of modern Cozies in general. There are some modern elements missing – a modern Cozy usually features a zany/free-spirited older relative, and I don’t think China ever spent childhood summers in Pecan Springs that she has come to idealize during her breakneck city career – but you can definitely see the blueprint of the modern Cozy quite clearly despite these variations.
One element from many modern Cozies that I don’t miss is that this particular novel gets to the crime very quickly, while many modern mysteries tend to move much more slowly into the crime element. One of the previously mentioned eccentric neighbors is discovered dead by her daughter and China is one of the first people she calls for consolation. Naturally, it turns out that there are plenty of people who might have wanted the dead woman gone, and serious questions about whether she committed suicide.
Despite having so many familiar modern elements, it also has its old-fashioned parts, at least by modern sensibilities. First, I will warn those who prefer their Cozies perfectly “clean” that this does include significantly more profanity than I would consider normal in a modern Cozy. There are also some relatively uncomfortable “real-life” influences that might be a bit less likely to be brought up in modern Cozies. In this case, the primary victim is currently undergoing depression due to her bad prognosis for her breast cancer, which causes the initial ruling of suicide that the police reach seem more plausible. Many of these elements would be less likely to be present in a modern Cozy – none of them bother me, but I did think I should bring it up for my more sensitive readers.
I will also say that I normally link Kindles in my image links because that is how I read books these days, but that is not what I would recommend here. The Kindle isn’t a particularly good transfer, with numerous formatting issues and errors in punctuation and other minor issues that I doubt are present in the paperback. So I would recommend against the Kindle version.
All told, I would strongly recommend this novel to anyone looking for an older Cozy, though be warned that compared to more modern, more sanitized Cozies, this is going to be a bit closer to “reality” than most of the comfort-food sort of Cozies of today.