The Last Chance Olive Ranch
Susan Wittig Albert     

Genre: Cozy Mystery
Series: China Bayles Mystery
Book: 25

In this exciting new mystery from New York Times bestselling author Susan Wittig Albert, China Bayles fears for her husband’s life as an escaped convict targets him...
Max Mantel, the killer McQuaid put away years ago, has busted out of the Huntsville prison and appears to be headed for Pecan Springs. McQuaid knows there’s only one way to stop the vengeful convict—set a trap with himself as bait.
China wants to stay by her husband’s side and keep him from harm. But McQuaid  insists that she get out of town and go to the Last Chance Olive Ranch, where she’s agreed to teach a workshop on herbs.
When China and her best friend arrive at the ranch, she learns the owner, Maddie Haskell, has her own troubles. She inherited the ranch and olive oil business from the late matriarch, Eliza Butler, but Eliza’s nephew is contesting the will.
While China throws herself into helping Maddie, McQuaid’s plan backfires when Mantel executes a countermove he never saw coming. Now McQuaid’s life is not the only one at stake—and this time may really be his last chance...

China Bayles is about to leave on a trip with her best friend, Ruby, to the Last Chance Olive Ranch. She’s given her word that she would help Ruby teach a workshop on herbs, but now she wishes she could back out of the trip. Ordinarily, the trip would be a fun break for China, but the timing is bad. She really doesn’t want to leave her husband, McQuaid, by himself in Pecan Springs. A violent killer has escaped from prison and is out for revenge against anyone who helped put him there, and that makes McQuaid a likely target. McQuaid wants China out of danger, though, and insists China stick with her plans. China grudgingly leaves with Ruby and finds herself in the middle of a mystery of her own on the ranch helping the owner, Maddie Haskell, prove she’s the rightful heir to the ranch.

I think the best books in this series are the ones in which China and Ruby work together, so when I started reading this book, I was excited to see China and Ruby would be spending time together at the Last Chance Olive Ranch. When China and Ruby work together to solve a case, the two friends get results. Their skills complement each other since China uses logic and Ruby relies on her feelings when looking into a case. While at the ranch, they both try to help Maddie with a problem, and get caught up in a murder case. I really enjoyed the circumstances surrounding Maddie’s inheritance and the mystery is fun to read. This book is well-researched and to give the reader background information related to the olive oil industry, the author has included everything you ever wanted to know and more about olive oil. It fits well with the story since China is eager to learn more about olive oil, so the information given flow well within the story and sometimes is included at the beginning of the chapter.  

McQuaid’s hunt for a killer out for revenge is also interesting, but the way it’s interspersed with chapters set on the ranch, it loses some of its punch. Except for the fact McQuaid and China worry about each other throughout the book, the two plots don’t have much in comment and end up competing for the reader’s attention. The result is both stories, especially McQuaid’s, suffer. The back and forth style works okay at the beginning, but as each story heats up, it is distracting to switch to the other one. I also didn’t enjoy the inclusion of McQuaid’s ex-wife into the mix, but see how it did add some drama. Luckily, the strength of the storyline set on the ranch is enough that I still enjoyed the book as a whole and would definitely recommend it to fans of the series and to new readers who would like to get to know China Bayles.

~ Christine