Bitter Herbs

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Natasha Cooper’s BITTER HERBS, like her previous mysteries A COMMON DEATH, POISON FLOWERS and BLOODY ROSES, catalogues the serendipitous detective work of Willow King, a British civil servant and a writer of elegant “romance-and-revenge novels.”

At the beginning of BITTER HERBS, Willow King is under stress: her popularity as a novelist is fading, the Home Secretary persuades her to put off her retirement to head a committee on education in prisons, her police-detective lover Tom Worth has been cruelly sullen toward her of late (upset, apparently, by her intense need for privacy), and her editor commissions her to write a biography about Gloria Grainger, a famous and tyrannical romance novelist who has died of a heart attack.

As she researches her subject, Willow finds that many of those close to Grainger had reasons to want her dead. Grainger mistreated several people, including her young niece and housekeeper Marilyn Posselthwate, her secretary Patricia Smithe and her editor Victoria Taffle. Marilyn Posselthwate stands to inherit much of her aunt’s fortune, and Peter Farrfield (the father of Marilyn’s daughter Sarah), having charmed Grainger into taking pity on him for the disability he fakes having received from a car accident, expects a share of her estate. Grainger’s maid Mrs. Guy will inherit twenty-five thousand pounds. Other suspects include book critic Posy Hacket, who has had a debilitating libel suit brought against her...

(The entire section is 415 words.)