My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Feeling the urge for some popcorn for the brain - or, since it is summer, perhaps a shaved ice for the brain - I turned to one of Carolyn Haines' Southern Belle Mysteries. This is the seventh one in the series. I had read the other six and found some of them diverting and others less so. There was at least a fifty percent chance that this one would entertain me.
I don't give up on books. If I choose to start reading one, I'm going to finish it, even if I don't like it. Many, maybe most, readers can't really understand this, feeling that life is too short to waste any of it on a bad book, and they have no hesitation in tossing one aside if it doesn't appeal to them. But I have this sense that I've made a contract with the writer by picking up his/her book and I need to fulfill my contract.
All that being said, I came about as close as I have in recent memory to giving up on a book after about fifty pages of Ham Bones. Although it didn't get any better after that, sadly, but true to my philosophy, I persevered. Those are hours of my life that I will never get back.
So, what was wrong with the book? Well, the plot was implausible and the characters unbelievable. Moreover, the main character, who in the earlier books exhibited a kind of quirky charm, has become whiny and bitter, constantly complaining about her state in life, although most people would probably consider her state in life to be pretty privileged. After all, she is the owner of her ancestral estate, partner in an at least semi-successful private investigation business, and surrounded by scores of friends, who, for no good reason that I can see, think she is wonderful. She just comes off as spoiled and self-centered, not someone the reader can readily root for.
As for the writing, perhaps the less said the better. It is slapdash and careless at best. One example may suffice.
Early in the book, our heroine, Sarah Booth Delaney (who is always referred to as Sarah Booth, never just Sarah) is sent on an errand from her Mississippi Delta hometown of Zinnia to Memphis. As she starts home again, we get this sentence:
As I crossed the mighty Mississippi, my cell phone rang.
Carolyn Haines grew up in Mississippi, as indeed I did, and she now lives in Alabama, so she must surely be aware that Memphis and Mississippi are on the same side of the river. One would not cross the "mighty Mississippi" to go home again from Memphis.
And that pretty much exemplifies the quality of the writing.
The plot, briefly, is this: A Broadway touring company comes to Zinnia to do a week-long run of performances of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The company just happens to comprise a number of actors whom Sarah Booth had worked with during her brief stint of trying to make it as an actress in New York. One of them is her former lover. Another is a woman who hated her. Sarah Booth is drafted to be an understudy to the star of the show (the woman who hates her) and in the middle of their first performance, the star is found lying dead on her dressing room floor. Turns out she was poisoned.
But the show must go on and it does, with Sarah Booth in the role. She is a great success, winning rave reviews and no one is the least bit sorry that a woman is dead, because everybody disliked her.
There is the little matter that the woman appears to have been murdered and the person who seems to have gained most from her death is Sarah Booth. Soon the county sheriff who loves her and who she loves is knocking on the door of the old plantation home to arrest Sarah Booth for murder.
Accck!!! I can't go on. Suffice to say that it all works out in the end and it is crystal clear long before the end just what had happened. No real mystery here. Except the mystery of why I read this book all the way to the end.
I have one more book in this series, #8, in my reading queue and, at some point, when the bad taste of this experience has dissipated, I'll probably read it. But unless the quality of it dramatically improves, it will be my last experience with the Southern Belle series.
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