“Sticks and Bones: A Sarah Booth Delaney Mystery”
Author: Carolyn Haines
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Price: $25.99 (Hardcover)
Here it is, the seventeenth Sarah Booth Delaney mystery. Like most of the previous, the story is set in the Mississippi Delta. Sarah Booth lives in Dahlia House, in Zinnia, Mississippi, in Sunflower County. This novel is longer than most Bones books, but the plot is engaging and Haines’s fans won’t mind.
Sarah Booth now has a solidly established detective agency, in partnership with her fashionable friend Tinkie Bellcase Richmond and aided by her buddies: Millie who runs the cafe, Madame Tameeka the fortune teller and Cece the transsexual newspaper woman.
This story unfolds in the present but the crime occurred five years earlier. There’s a reason for this: Sarah Booth has only been back in Mississippi for two years and it is unreasonable to believe there is a murder there every six weeks. The populations of small towns like Cabot Cove and Zinnia cannot sustain such losses.
The challenge: A movie is to be made about a horrible accident in which a mother, Cleo McFee, and her grown son, Daryl, called Son, went into the raging Sunflower River during a great storm. Was Son high on drugs, as he had often been, was it a pure accident or was there foul play?
There was a gigantic insurance policy on Cleo, and with oldest son, Son, dead, the family fortune was in play.
Cleo’s body was recovered but Son’s never was, so there was no tox screen, and the wrecked auto itself mysteriously disappeared right after the crash, so it could not be thoroughly examined.
Now, the movie company of Hollywood producers Marco and Lorraine St. John, “The hottest couple in Tinsel Town” has hired the Delaney agency to discover what really happened, as it may affect the ending of their film.
If there was foul play, suspects abound. Cleo’s husband, Colin, was having an affair with Susan, whom he later married. Did he or Susan have Cleo killed? Son’s sister, “Sister,” never got the attention she deserved from Daddy. Did she kill her brother out of demented sibling rivalry?
Did Son know things about Colin’s mishandling of the family business, so he was the target?
Sarah Booth gets to work, aided at home by Jitty, the live-in ghost of Dahlia House or Sarah Booth’s alter ego, take your pick. Jitty, a source of comic relief, likes to appear in costume, and in this novel manifests as female detectives and spies: from the movies, Greta Garbo as Mata Hari and Barbara Bain as Cinnamon Carter, as well as Harriet the Spy and Nancy Wake, the gestapo fighter. Breaking gender, she also appears as Maxwell Smart.
For further comic relief, we learn Colin McFee is running for the U. S. Senate in Mississippi. As the basis of his campaign, Colin has positioned himself as the sworn enemy of Vladimir Putin, and to out-macho the Russian, Colin, in his sixties, often appears shirtless on television and does a “nipple dance” with his pectoral muscles. Sarah Booth is disgusted. It remains to be seen what the Mississippi voter thinks about this.
Meanwhile, Sarah Booth’s love life progresses. She’s over Graf Milieu, the movie star, and is considering Scott, the guitar player at the local blues club, Harold, a nice, rich local businessman, and of course Coleman Peters, the sheriff of Sunflower County, with whom she shares, Scarlett-like, “a love of the land.”
As we round the clubhouse turn, Sheriff Peters is in the lead.
Don Noble is host of the Alabama Public Television literary interview show “Bookmark with Don Noble.”