Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Wittig's Witches!

Okay.  So in China’s second investigation, Witches' Bane, rumors of witches and devil worshipers have taken over the small town of Pecan Springs, Texas.  These rumors are exacerbated by the suicide of a local teenager and homeless individual.  So the townsfolk are on edge and, most sincerely, this includes a local religious group led by Reverend Billy Lee Harbuck.  Harbuck has taken it upon himself to put an end to the madness, beginning with rounding up his followers to picket the local metaphysical gift shop propertied by China Bayles’ best friend, Ruby Wilcox.  The hitch is that the gift shop and China’s herb shop are connected.  Thus, of course, infecting both Ruby and China's businesses.  The situation and local stirrings get worse when a wealthy socialite named Sybil Rand is found murdered in her home.  The catch, one of Ruby’s athame blades are stuck in her body.  Further investigation uncovers the Death tarot card and a voodoo doll in Sybil’s possession.  With the walls closing in on Ruby, China, alongside her ex-cop boyfriend Mike McQuaid, set out to prove Ruby’s innocence.  Particularly before the whole town loses its damned mind!

I believe I gave this book four stars because Albert–though I hardly found myself deterred from the obvious–did a great job of trying to sway readers from her direction.  Specifically through the use of character narratives, as oppose to creating circumstances alongside clues and evidence.  But to be extremely transparent–because I do tend to muddle my words–you have to pay attention to every little piece of dialogue in Albert's books.  Her dialogue will always tell you–as the reader–where to sniff.  Even as she tries to swing you left.  

Additionally, my stars grew because I got a better taste of Albert's plotting and techniques.  Which is something that let me down after the end of the first China Bayles book, Thyme of Death.  Nonetheless, with all of Witches' Bane's themes on religion versus religion and relationships gone sour; I really, really enjoyed Albert introducing readers to China’s alcoholic mother most of all.  What better time than early in the series do we get to establish where China came from–up front and center?  Her Momma Drama is not spoken about or around for five or six books before the reader (as well as the protagonist) is confronted with her background (ahem, Sue Grafton).  So I really appreciated that because it gives both China and her mother so much room to evolve their relationship as the books continue.  And personally, I love me a good-ass B/recurring theme story used to help carry a long-running series through.  I mean that's why we read series over 10+ books.  The characters become our friends and associates and we want to know how they're managing their personal life alongside sleuthing activities.  

I also like China's mother appearing because China isn't a protagonist devoid of background.  And especially not devoid to the point where the author means to fill one in as she/he goes.  So China's definitely shaped by her background (one aspect being her father pushed her to be a lawyer), but it's not this big mystery to the readers as to how she's developed her ways.  So thank goodness for that.  None of that "my parents died when I was a baby and this is just who I am" kind of stuff.
But it also goes to show another of Albert’s strengths, she knows how to give life to characters.  Even the smallest, most minimalistic character has a working and active background and narrative.  It might be handed to the reader peripherally through side conversations, but chances are if a character is named and introduced there’s gossip available to help fill his or her backstory.  And though Albert's pretty slick with giving readers this information to try to deter and slid in red herrings, you’ll probably get an idea as to who’s really worth your focus.  Mainly if a character is introduced and spoken of so harmlessly finds him or herself spoken of and popping up a little too frequently.
Like I said, you’ll get an idea who are the real players in this case.  Not necessarily establish the motive without further reading, but you’ll know.

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