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The China Bayles Herbal Mysteries

Reading Group Guides: Spanish Dagger (#15)

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  1. The story begins, as many China Bayles mysteries do, with a chapter that introduces China's friends, involved with a project for China's herb shop. What happens in this chapter? Why is it important?

  2. Many of the books in this series are built on "bridge" plots—stories that begin in one book and continue in another. There are two "bridge" plots in Spanish Dagger: the story of Ruby's relationship to Colin Fowler and the story of China's relationship to her half-brother and her father. As this book opens, what's the status of the Ruby/Colin plot? The China/Miles/Bob Bayles plot?

  3. If you haven't read Dead Man's Bones or Bleeding Hearts, you haven't met Colin Fowler. Does this matter? Why or why not?

  4. Colin wasn't just Ruby's boyfriend—he had a previous relationship with Sheila Dawson, Pecan Springs' police chief. How/why does this connection become a part of the current situation?

  5. Poor Ruby. Her life, as usual, is filled with trouble: Colin's death, the illness of her mother. While senile dementia is nothing to laugh at, the scenes with her mother do provide a kind of near-comic relief, especially because Ruby herself is able to see the macabre humor. Susan says: "As a writer, I found this combination of pathos and comedy difficult to pull off." How well do you think she succeeded?

  6. Rambo is an important (and new) character in this book. What does he contribute to the story, both in terms of plot and character? What is the irony of the dog's name, in Ruby's view? How does our view of him change from our first acquaintance with him to the end of the book? Would you like to see more of Rambo?

  7. In Chapter 13, we meet a man named Tyson and hear about the "jump out boys." Susan first learned about these undercover operators when she was researching the narcotics task forces that operated in Texas during the 1990s. Some of them were responsible for some very bad things that happened to innocent people, like the citizens of the little town of Tulia, who were arrested on the uncorroborated testimony of one man. In some ways, this is the shadow side of police work. How is this part of the story connected to Colin's story?

  8. Yucca is the signature herb of this mystery. This plant, while vitally important to the native people of the Southwest, is not as as well known as the familiar kitchen herbs: parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme. How does yucca figure in the plot?

  9. The book begins with a quotation from one of Susan's favorite mystery writers, Terence Faherty. "It's possible to solve a mystery and still not know all the answers." By the end of Spanish Dagger, which mysteries have been solved? What questions are still left unanswered? How do you feel about this kind of open-ended plotting?

  10. In all of the China Bayles books, China has to struggle as much with her own personal issues as she does with the issues that confront her. In this book, what personal issues is she dealing with? How does she feel? Is she justified, do you think, in resisting her half-brother's attempts to develop a more intimate relationship with her?

  11. Have you ever eaten prickly pear? What do you think of it?

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