I have been enjoying Susan Wittig Albert’s several mystery series for about 20 years now.
In my mind, Widow's Tears is the best China Bayles mystery yet.
Albert has been giving voice to her other characters in the last couple of books, and it has been a marvelous experience, hearing from China’s husband and “Smart Cookie.” But Widow's Tears gives us Ruby’s viewpoint and perspective, and I really liked that. Ruby’s past has come back to--quite literally--haunt her.
Seeing Ruby's take on things is enjoyable to see, realizing that she is not always comfortable within her skin, that she often strides ahead without complete certainty, and sometimes, despite her flamboyant nature,
that she is downright scared!
One of my favorite kinds of mysteries are the ones that give me a terrific story with some true-to-life history along the way. Widow's Tears does just that.
Albert entwines 1900 Galveston Island, Texas, complete with horrific September hurricane--called the Storm of 1900--with the current story of Ruby going to Round Top in Southern Texas to help a friend out with a problem.
And what a problem it is! Claire has inherited a strangely beautiful old house, built some hundred years prior by a widow who lived alone
and died in the house as a shut-in with only an elderly companion for company. Claire would like to turn it into a bed and breakfast and wants to create an ambiance that will keep the house full of guests. The drawback? The house is haunted, and the residents of Round Top are known for gossiping about it. It is time for Ruby and her talents, forged during her tumultuous youth and honed in her years owning Crystal Cave, next-door to China Bayles' herb shop, to lend a hand.
As we read about the Storm of 1900, we discover the links to the present and Claire and Ruby’s dilemma. Albert brings together the people from the storm and their histories into the making of the haunted house in Round Top, called the Blackwood Mansion. Why does the house feel so out of kilter? Why does it look, from the outside, like a puzzle run amok? Why did an elderly woman have a child’s nursery on the top floor, and a man’s smoking paraphernalia in the library?
Each chapter brings the resolution closer, but there is no feeling of either being rushed or
of a dragging storyline. Each character, past and present, plays a vital part in the mystery, and the subplots enhance the mystique. China, back in Pecan Springs, views another oncoming storm--Tropical Storm Amanda is on its way to town, and Ruby’s obnoxious sister Ramona is pushing her way into China’s business unexpectedly, leaving bad vibes all around. The book comes to a marvelous conclusion and left me feeling sated. Love it when a book does that!