After nine Sarah Booth Delaney novels, Carolyn Haines faces the same problems as the writers of Murder, She Wrote.
Audio ?2010 Alabama Public Radio
After nine Sarah Booth Delaney novels, Carolyn Haines faces the same problems as the writers of Murder, She Wrote; that is, if private investigator Sarah Booth stayed put in small-town Zinnia, Mississippi, and the dead bodies kept appearing, the population of sunflower County would peter out to a skeleton crew. So, in Wishbones, the seventh novel in the series, Haines took her detective to the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, where Sarah Booth fell happily in love with the movie star Graf Milieu. Back in Mississippi for the eighth, Greedy Bones, Sarah Booth was nearly killed and lost the baby she was carrying.
With this loss, a terrible depression sets in, so at the start of Bone Appetit Sarah Booth's buddy and partner Tinkie takes her to Greenwood, Mississippi, to the Viking stove cooking school and spa to be pampered and distracted and find some emotional healing. At the same time, there is a beauty pageant/cooking contest for young women wishing to be the spokesperson for Viking. The situation is ripe for humor and Haines has written perhaps her funniest novel.
Tinkie and Sarah Booth drink mimosas and cosmopolitans, have facials and attend classes. They work at appetizers, especially miniature quiches, then fancy salads, then the four main sauces. Tinkie is a pro; Sarah Booth is learning slowly.
Of course the friends take in the beauty/talent/cooking contest, and that is where the mysteries quickly mount up. For some of the girls, Miss Viking is a do-or-die last chance. They are 25 or older, and regular beauty contests are behind them. First, the most arrogant and hated of the contestants, Karrie Kompton (yes, KK) receives a bouquet of white roses and chocolates in the cocktail bar. Picking up a chocolate, she "slowly bit the candy in half?the half she still held in her hand began to move. Hairy legs protruded, and the back half of a giant cockroach fell onto the bar and began crawling crazily around. Headless it had no sense of direction."
This is great fun and no harm done. Already, Sarah Booth is feeling somewhat better. But matters get darker when Babs Lafitte, a statuesque, six-foot redhead, has her hair spray sabotaged and her hair falls from her burnt scalp. Sarah Booth's clairvoyant friend Tammy, now called Madame Tomeeka, had sensed danger: "Someone is about to get hurt. . . . There's someone truly evil around those girls, someone who will stop at nothing . . . ." She is so right. When the Hawaian girl, Brook Oniado, performs with flaming batons, they, too, are sabotaged, and she burns to death.
Hedy Lamarr Blackledge, a dark beauty, is suspected and hires Tinkie and Sarah Booth to clear her and find the real killer. The vacation is sort of over.
But the mayhem is not. Since cooking fancy and impromptu dishes is part of the contest, like a program on the Food Channel, much food is prepared and tasted. And where there is a lot of food to be tasted and a killer on the loose, there will be poison, in fact various and highly unusual poisons.
Haines is enjoying herself here and so is the reader. At first the novel is a comedy, a send-up of the ritualized competitive backbiting and egomania of the beauty contest, complete with accompanying stage mothers. Then the bodies start piling up, and the law is called in. Sarah Booth and Tinkie research the lives of the surviving contestants, looking for clues and old wounds and grievances and, of course, find plenty of them.
Haines's books are generally classified as cozies but she has moved a little over the boundary line in this one, with a certain amount of pain and death. Still, there is no sadism or torture, and the comedy, early on, is first rate.
This review was originally broadcast on Alabama Public Radio on June 07, 2010. Don Noble's book reviews can be heard each Monday on Alabama Public Radio at 7:35 a.m. and 4:44 p.m.