In a letter written exclusively for bn.com shoppers, Susan Wittig Albert discusses the key plant in her latest China Bayles herbal mystery, Lavender Lies. According to Wittig, lavender is an amazing plant: It can induce sleep, calm nerves, sooth headaches, even cure those pesky stomach grumbles, as Ms. Albert demonstrates with a scrumptious cookie recipe. So scroll down,
eat up, and enjoy!
A Letter from Susan Wittig Albert
If you're a lover of lavender, you're not alone in your passion. The sharply clean, refreshing scent of its delicate flowers and silver-gray foliage was cherished in early times by the Egyptians (who used it to make mummies), the Phoenicians, the Greeks, and the Romans, and by gardeners everywhere.
Lavender grows best under its native conditions -- that is, where it can have bright sun and excellent drainage. If lavender doesn't like your moist, shady garden, try it in the hot dry, gravelly space between the curb and the sidewalk where
everything else fries to a crisp. If you live north of the Mason-Dixon line, you'll need to plant a winter-hardy variety and toss a mulch blanket around it in winter. To harvest, pick the spikes just as the flowers are about to open, watching for
snakes and fairies. (Sicilians used to believe that fairies took the form of snakes and wound themselves around the lavender plant.) Hang in a dark place to dry. Your closet is good, particularly because you can visit it often and sniff to your
heart's delight. You can also use it in your bath, or to flavor cookies and cakes, make tangy vinegars, and brew fragrant teas.
Lavender's healing properties have been known and exploited for centuries. It has been used to soothe headaches, calm the nerves, relieve anxiety, quiet indigestion, induce sleep, relax sore muscles, and kill germs. Recent research shows that the plant contains a powerful antiseptic. Scientists have also confirmed that the scent of lavender lulls you to sleep by slowing the
central nervous system. Other research suggests that the plant may have anti-cancer potential as well, triggering a self-destruct mechanism that helps cancer cells destroy themselves.
All this, and pretty, too!
A LAVENDER RECIPE
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. lavender flowers
1 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cream together eggs, margarine, sugar, and lavender until well mixed. Sift flower, baking powder, and salt together. Add to creamed mixture and stir until blended. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 10 minutes.
China Bayles is a week away from marrying her beloved fianc , the interim police chief of Pecan Springs. However, the murder of Edgar Coleman puts a damper on her plans, so China decides to help her husband-to-be solve the crime. Edgar, who was known for his shady deals and philandering ways, had many enemies, so China and her friend Ruby decide to investigate, and what they turn up adds more suspects to the list and more possibilities that China will miss her honeymoon. Can Ruby and China solve the murder? Will China still get married? Lavender Lies is a simple but fun story with little gore and lots of plot twists that will keep readers guessing until the very end. Albert does a fine job reading her own work, a tape that should find a home in most mystery collections.--Danna Bell-Russel, Library of Congress Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
As her marriage to Pecan Springs (Texas) Acting Police Chief Michael McQuaid looms, lawyer-turned-herbalist China Bayles wrestles with floral arrangements, musical selections, and her eighth murder case (Chile Death, 1998, etc.). Someone has put paid to Edgar Coleman's nefarious real-estate schemes, and the big questions are (1) who wanted him dead badly enough to push to the head of a very long line of suspects, and (2) which of those suspectsranging from the wife he was cheating on to the seven city councillors he was blackmailingcould not have been the "Jean" a neighbor heard Letty Coleman casting aspersions on before the widow's own fatal tumble down her stone steps? (One of the city councillors is beautician Billie Jean Jones; another is bookseller Darla Jean McDaniels; even a little South Texas town like Pecan Springs presumably has room for still more.) Albert does a deft job of balancing China's investigations, designed to rescue her bridegroom for his honeymoon, with dense small-town detail, but long before the final chapter, which describes the wedding after the mystery's been safely wrapped up, there's never any doubt that romance comes first in her heart, followed by her loving evocation of an entrepreneurial Shangri-la of endless independent shopkeepers, whether or not they're named Jean. Though the murderer is easily spotted in advance, the motive will surprise you. If you really burn with suspense about the wedding, though, you'll have to wait till that last chapter. (Author tour)