The China Bayles Herbal Mysteries
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- "It isn't easy to know where to start a story," China Bayles says in the first chapter. This story really begins in the previous book in the series, when McQuaid, China's significant other, is shot. How does this "back story" (the name that writers give to previous events) affect the various story lines in Chile Death? Do you have to have read the earlier books in order to understand this one?
- China has gone through some recent major changes in her life, and these events have changed her. In what ways? If you have read previous books, how is the China of Chile Death a different person?
- The "signature herb" of this book is the chili pepper. What did you learn about chili peppers that you didn't already know? What role does the herb play in the book?
- Of all the books in the series so far, this one may be the most quintessentially "Texas." In what ways does this setting affect the book's various stories?
- Ruby has come into some money and makes a business proposition to China. How does she get the money? What does she want to do with it? Why does China resist? What does this say about Ruby? About China? About their relationship?
- In the Author's Note, Susan Albert writes: "I am asked from time to time whether humor might not distract readers from the underlying serious these of the China Bayles mysteries, which involve violated trusts, broken dreams, and murder." What humorous elements do you find in this book? How do you feel about the use of comedy here?
- Chile Death includes a recipe in one of the headnotes, and an expanded "References, Resources, and Recipes" section at the end. What (if anything) does this "extra material" add to your enjoyment of the book?
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:
Texas Chuckwagon Chili
Here it is—genuine Texas chili, the way the cowboys made it. (Well, almost. You probably can't buy longhorn chuck steak at your corner grocery.)
- 12 dried Anaheim chile peppers, split, stemmed, and seeded
- 2 cups water
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 4 onions, finely chopped
- 4 pounds beef chuck steak, cut in ½" cubes
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 2 tablespoons oregano
- 3 bay leaves
- salt, pepper to taste
Put chiles and water into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Remove chiles from pan, set pan aside. Finely chop chiles. Heat oil in a large pot. Add garlic and onions and saute 2-3 minutes. Add meat and brown until cooked through (7-10 minutes). Add chopped chiles, cumin, oregano, salt, pepper, bay leaves, and half of the chile cooking liquid you've saved. Reduce heat, cover and simmer, adding a little chile cooking liquid to keep the meat moist. Cook about 1½ hours. Discard bay leaves. Makes 8-12 servings.