Don Noble
9:07 am
Mon May 17, 2004

Hallowed Bones

Sarah Booth Delaney, an orphan, in her thirties, after an unsuccessful attempt to establish an acting career in New York City, has returned to the family home, Dahlia House, in Zinnia, Sunflower County, in the Mississippi Delta.

Hallowed Bones

Them Bones, Buried Bones, Splintered Bones, Crossed Bones, and now Hallowed Bones?Carolyn Haines? fifth Sarah Booth Delaney mystery novel and her best yet.

You need not have read any of the earlier ones to enjoy Hallowed Bones. Haines efficiently catches the reader up on who?s who.

Sarah Booth Delaney, an orphan, in her thirties, after an unsuccessful attempt to establish an acting career in New York City, has returned to the family home, Dahlia House, in Zinnia, Sunflower County, in the Mississippi Delta.

Corpses keep popping up in her neck of the woods, and she has become, willy nilly, a private detective. This kind of thing can?t go on indefinitely. Had Miss Marple remained in St. Mary Mead without traveling, ever, the population of that little English town would have been reduced soon to just her and the last murderer.

Anne George cut the population of Birmingham, Alabama significantly in only eight novels, and one of those took place at Orange Beach, Alabama.

So Sarah booth must travel a little. and in Hallowed Bones, the sleuthing takes her to New Orleans, a big favorite among mystery novelists. If the very best thing you can put into a novel is a Paris street name, the second best is the name of a restaurant in the French Quarter.

Sarah Booth heads to New Orleans. Her partner, Tinkie, goes with her, and her friend Cece, who used to be Cecil before a visit to Sweden, also makes the trip. Tameeka, a fortune teller, and Millie, who serves as Sarah Booth?s ears in this world, runs the Zinnia Caf? and can?t get away. The Sunflower County irregulars are shorthanded, especially since Jitty, the 19th-century slave ghost who haunts Dahlia House and serves as Sarah Booth?s conscience, doesn?t travel.

But Sarah Booth, Tinkie, and Cece do. They check into the Monteleone and start investigating.

Doreen Mallory, a gifted spiritualist, Tarot reader, and healer, has been accused of murdering her badly malformed infant. The motive, the police assert, is that it would have been embarrassing for Doreen, who has healing powers, not to be able to heal her own baby. Well, that would probably be true, but Sarah Booth and the reader just know Doreen didn?t do it.

Sarah Booth asks who the father was, and Doreen is not exactly sure. She has been sleeping with three men, for therapeutic purposes?their therapy, not hers. There is no embarrassment about this. As Doreen tells Sarah Booth, ?Love is what I do. It is my special gift.?

The three men are a United States senator, a televangelist who purports to be a healer himself, and Doreen?s financial manager. All had motives and, perhaps, opportunity.

Sarah Booth sets to work: interviews, beignets at Caf? du Monde, DNA testing, breakfast at Commander?s Palace, stake-outs, drinks at the Napoleon House. We get glimpses of high society in New Orleans and glimpses of the New Orleans mafia. There is more than one transsexual in the novel, and that is not an everyday occurrence.

As if uncovering a murderer weren?t stressful enough, Sarah Booth is also tormented by being torn between two loves, one, Hamilton, who usually lives in Paris and seems to work for Amnesty International, with whom she spends the night, and the other, the married sheriff of Sunflower County, Coleman, whom Sarah Booth really loves but who cannot escape from his crazy wife. Sarah Booth is a lusty young woman but has genuine scruples.

This novel is something of a cozy. There is lots of suspense, little overt violence or sex, no torture or mutilation, and, finally, the reader really likes and is interested in Tinkie and Sarah Booth and their lives as much as the reader cares about who done it.

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