The China Bayles Herbal Mysteries
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- When China Bayles discovers the body of Rosemary Robbins, she is moved by both fear and wonderment.
"I looked down, feeling her separateness, sensing the absolute distance between us. Who had she been, this woman I had admirned but barely known? What had empowered her, brought her pain, brought her peace? What had brought her to this terrible end? And I knew with sad certainty that it was only here, only now, in this last, quiet moment, that Rosemary Robbins could be whatever woman she was. In a little while, she would be the coroner's corpse, the cops' homocide, the DA's murder victim, the media's crime of the hour. Each of us, the living, would dissect her, construct her, imagine her, compose her as it suited our purposes, our needs. It was only in this moment, her death just discovered and not yet acknowledged, that she could be simply and purely herself, whoever she had been."
For me, as the author, this passage is at the core of the book. What does it suggest to you? How does China go about the task of discovering Rosemary's identity? How is that theme related to the main mystery plot—the search for the identity of Rosemary's killer?
- In classical mysteries (Dorothy Sayers, et al), a writer was forbidden to offer her detective a clue by supernatural means. I have violated this rule in Rosemary Remembered by using Ondine Wolfsong and La Que Sabe to insert a crucial clue. How do you feel about the way this clue is brought in, and about the reactions of China and Sheila? How does La Que Sabe add to the complexity of the mystery?
- Subplots are often used in mysteries simply to thicken and add interest to the main plot. In the China Bayles series, however, I use the main subplot to carry the "personal" plot—China's on-going growth and development. The main subplot in Rosemary Remembered involves China's relationship with McQuaid's son Brian. How do the events of this plot change that relationship? What does China learn? How does she change?
- Rosemary is an evergreen herb that has long been used to symbolize devotion (hence its use in weddings) and remembrance (hence its use at funerals). For me, this paradox is summarized in the lines from Herrick's poem, which I used as a headnote to Chapter Fifteen:
"Grow for two ends, it matters not at all,
How are rosemary's paradoxical associations with death and marriage important to the book?
Be't for my bridal or my burial."
- At the end of most mystery novels, questions are fully answered, justice is done, and order is restored. That doesn't happen in Rosemary Remembered. Instead, at the end of the book (pp. 292-293), China reflects on what has happened and on the questions still left open. What do her reflections add to your experience of the novel? Do you wish that the loose ends could have been tied up a little more neatly? If not, why not?
- In this book, I began placing headnotes at the beginning of each chapter. In my mind, each of these notes has a particular function: some of them offer a clue, some give additional information about some element of the chapter, and some are ironic and intentionally misleading. Do you like (or what don't you like) about these notes? Do they add to your pleasure in 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:
Ruby makes the best rosemary biscuits in the world. She serves them at breakfast with strawberry jam, or cuts them small and serves with ham roll-ups for appetizers. She says they're fast, and special enough for company dinner. This recipe makes about 15 tender, flaky biscuits.
- 2 cups flour
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1½ tsp sugar
- 2 tblsp butter
- 1 tblsp fresh rosemary leaves, chopped fine
- or 1 tsp crumbled dried rosemary
- ¾ cups milk
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Grease and flour a baking sheet. Sift the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar together. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients. Add the rosemary and the milk and mix together into a soft dough. On a lightly floured board, roll out dough ½" thick. Cut into 1½" squares and place close together on the baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes. Cool on a rack, or serve hot.