A debut overloaded with good intentions--among them, to create, in lawyer-turned-herbalist China Bayles, a character as strong, forthright, and compelling as Kinsey Millhone or V.I. Warshawski--but, here, there's little follow-through. Instead, we get a younger Americanized version of Miss Marple, and the gossips of St. Mary Mead are now the busybodies of Pecan Springs, Texas. When dear, sweet cancer-riddled Jo is found dead, the sheriff thinks she committed suicide. But China and Ruby, the owner of a New Age crystal shop, think not, and debate who makes the best suspect: Jo's angry daughter, Meredith; TV star Roz, who loved and left her; dotty doll-maker Violett, who was furious with Roz; Roz's high-powered New York agent Jane; or a local nabob eager to build a major airport nearby. There'll be a burglary and two more deaths before China and Ruby turn matters over to the sheriff to wrap up. Heavy-handed in its attempts to be both hip and cozy and, at heart--although it rambles on about liberated, feminist women--an old-fashioned view of small-towners with conservative sensibilities. A stodgy beginning of a proposed series.