The China Bayles Herbal Mysteries

Nightshade (#16)

China's herb shop and catering business may be thriving, but she's still reeling from her father's death, and not even remotely interested in her half-brother Miles's investigation into that event. China's husband, on the other hand, has no such qualms. And when fate forces her to get involved as well, China realizes it's time to bring the past to light—or else it will haunt her the rest of her life.

But China and McQuaid discover that Miles may have been keeping as many secrets as he seemed determined to uncover. How deep do the layers of secrecy go? And who has a stake in concealing the truth after sixteen years?

"Quirky, enlightening and surprisingly profound, Albert's China Bayles mysteries are an absolute delight to read: head and shoulders above most other amateur whodunits." —Ransom Notes

Read the first chapter of Nightshade

Discussion questions for Nightshade
Warning! Contains spoilers (plot hints).

Order from

Order from Barnes & Noble

Buy local
Order from your
local independent bookseller Download the audiobook


Here's what reviewers have to say about the China Bayles mysteries!

  • "China's followers will delight in the complicated relationships, recipes and historical flower information." —Kirkus Reviews
  • "China's warmth and sensitivity...endear her to readers, while her investigative skills make her a leader among female sleuths...A leisurely cozy with a Southwestern flair." —Publishers Weekly
  • "A diabolically clever sleuth...China and Ruby make Batman and Robin look like amateurs." —Harriet Klausner
  • "Add another fragrant bloom to the dozen already in the bouquet of Albert's herbal cozies." —Publishers Weekly


Nightshade is one of the over two thousand plants that belong to the Solanaceae. This plant family includes such edible plants as the tomato, potato, eggplant, and chile pepper; decorative plants such as the petunia; and toxic plants such as datura (Jimson weed), tobacco, henbane, mandrake, and deadly nightshade, also known as belladonna.

Over the centuries, the nightshade family has gotten a very bad rap—which is a pity, because it ranks high on the list of plant families that people have found extremely useful. It’s hard to imagine our menus without potatoes, tomatoes, chile peppers, and eggplant, or picture our gardens without the showy petunias that splash color all over the landscape. Surgeons of antiquity, who relied on plant narcotics for anesthesia, found both the mandrake and deadly nightshade indispensable when they needed to put people to sleep—although they no doubt lost a few patients in the process.

On the other hand, the nightshade family also includes the notoriously addictive tobacco, that great cash crop that has made some people hugely rich and millions of people desperately sick, and three narcotic plants that have long been associated with soothsaying, black magic, and witchcraft. It's this side of the Solanum family—the dark side—that has given these herbs such an evil reputation.
©2008 Susan Wittig Albert

China's Creole Aubergine
China serves this eggplant dish to her family in Chapter One. Read what Brian and McQuaid think of it. (Hint: some folks aren't eggplant fans. If you are, you're bound to like this recipe! If you're not, you'll appreciate Brian's reaction.)
  • 1 eggplant, sliced or cubed
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped onions
  • 3 Tbsp. chopped green bell peppers
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup sliced mushrooms
  • 2 cups canned diced tomatoes
  • 4 oz. can tomato paste
  • ¼ cup fresh basil, shredded
  • 1½ tsp. ground bay leaves
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • ½ tsp. thyme
  • ¼ tsp. ground cayenne pepper
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • ½ cup grated yellow cheese
  • 1 Tbsp. margarine

Slice or cube the eggplant, sprinkle with salt and set it aside while you make the sauce. (This "sweating" will remove some of the natural bitterness.) Heat the oil in a skillet and sauté onions and bell peppers for 2-3 minutes, stirring. Add garlic and sauté for another 2-3 minutes, then mushrooms. Cook for another minute or two, then add tomatoes and tomato paste. Simmer for about 15 minutes, then add herbs and seasonings and simmer until thick, about another 15 minutes. Rinse eggplant well and drop into boiling water; parboil 7-8 minutes, or until tender. Arrange a layer of eggplant in the bottom of a casserole dish. Cover with sauce. Continue layering, finishing with the sauce. Sprinkle on the cheese, top with seasoned bread crumbs, dot with margarine and bake at 350° F. for 30 minutes, or until bubbling. Serves 4-6.
©2008 Susan Wittig Albert

Fifteenth book in the series: Spanish Dagger

Seventeenth book in the series: Wormwood