Austin novelist Susan Wittig Albert has written the 29th book in her popular China Bayles Mystery series, A Plain Vanilla Murder (Persevero Press, $26.99 hardcover).

Like the other novels in the series, this one revolves around a plant, the vanilla bean. The series includes such titles as Thyme of Death, Lavender Lies, Mistletoe Man and Rosemary Remembered.

In this story, China teams up with pregnant Pecan Springs Police Chief Sheila Dawson to investigate the murder of a botany professor who specialized in research having to do with vanilla orchards. His ex-wife, a friend of China’s, is a leading suspect but certainly not the only one, including a gang of orchid smugglers.

As always, Albert keeps the action and the flavor flowing. At the end of the book, the author offers an educational chapter on the history and the uses of vanilla beans, followed by recipes for making vanilla extract, vanilla sugar, vanilla whipped cream, vanilla butter and more.

For additional details, see the author’s website, SusanAlbert.com.

Now in paperback

Thursday Night Lights: The Story of Black High School Football in Texas by Michael Hurd, published in hardback in 2017, is now available in a trade paperback edition (University of Texas Press, $17.95).

I reviewed the readable and authoritative history when it came out and then had the pleasure of meeting the author and hearing him speak.

Hurd is director of Prairie View A&M’s Texas Institute for the Preservation of History and Culture.

“This book,” he writes, “is about ‘black folks’ who coached and played high school football behind the veil of segregation in Texas for half a century, 1920-1970, as members of the all-black Prairie View Interscholastic League.”

In explaining the book’s title, Hurd notes that the black schools played their games “primarily on Wednesday and Thursday nights in most towns, Tuesdays in others, some on Saturdays, but rarely on prime-time Friday nights, when games for white schools were played.”

‘The Spectators’

Jennifer duBois, who teaches in the Master of Fine Arts program at Texas State University, has a new novel — The Spectators ($27 hardcover) — published by Random House that has drawn some early rave reviews.

The New York Times rated it as one of 10 books to watch in April. My friend and Austin novelist Mary Helen Specht calls it “a thrilling high-wire act. Combining a symphonic structure with unflinching psychological insight, this gorgeous novel explores the ways in which we betray and redeem each other. ‘The Spectators’ is a masterpiece.”

The story revolves around a controversial television talk-show host who goes by the TV name of Mattie M. It deals with politics, gay culture, the AIDS crisis, a mass shooting and sensational media. Some readers might find it a bit too dark for their taste.

Earlier novels by duBois, A Partial History of Lost Causes and Cartwheel, were finalists for major book awards. Read more about her at jennifer-dubois.com.


Glenn Dromgoole writes about Texas books and authors. Contact him at g.dromgoole@suddenlink.net.

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