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The China Bayles Herbal Mysteries

Reading Group Guides: Thyme of Death (#1)

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  1. Thyme of Death introduces the central characters in what has become a long-running series: China Bayles, Ruby Wilcox, and Mike McQuaid. Describe these characters as you see them. What are their major issues? How does this play out in their relationships in this book?

  2. This book is set in a small Texas town, halfway between Austin and San Antonio, on the edge of the Texas Hill Country. Does the town seem real to you? When you read a book, how important is the setting to your enjoyment of the story?

  3. The mystery in Thyme of Death has to do with a relationship that ended bitterly some time before. How does this old relationship poison the present? Do you know of real-life instances where a former relationship has caused problems?

  4. As an herbalist, gardener, and shopkeeper, China is unique among amateur sleuths. (Rather, she was, when this series began in 1992. Similar characters have appeared in the years since, perhaps because of China's popularity.) Does China's interest in herbs add to your interest in the book? Why or why not?

  5. China is a former criminal lawyer. How does this shape her character and the way she exeriences the events of this story?

  6. This book (and the entire series) is written in the first person, from China's point of view. What advantages and disadvantages do you see in this? How would this book have been different if the story had been told from another character's point of view?

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:

Thymely Cream of Carrot Soup

In Pecan Springs, Texas, soup always seems to taste better in the winter—but this thymely soup is good hot or chilled. Serve it to 4-6.

  • 2 pounds carrots, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 tblsp butter or margarine
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • a bouquet garni made with 6 parsley sprigs, 3 thyme sprigs, and a sprig of marjoram tied together with string
  • 1 cup half/half (no-fat is fine)
  • salt and pepper
  • nutmeg
  • 2 tblsp chopped parsley leaves
  • 1 tblsp chopped thyme leaves

Over low heat, saute the carrots and onion in the butter or margarine in a covered soup pot until soft, about 15 minutes. Add the stock and heat to a simmer. Add the bouquet garni and simmer 20 minutes. Take out the bouqet garni and puree the soup in two or three batches. Add half and half and reheat. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and serve, garnished with chopped thyme and parsley. To serve cold, chill for several hours and garnish with a dollop of yogurt and the chopped herbs.