My rating: 4 of 5 stars
And here's another of my guilty pleasure reads for the summer - the fifth entry in Carolyn Haines' Sarah Booth Delaney series. It was great fun to read and, indeed, may be my favorite in the series so far.
Sarah Booth Delaney's private investigation business in the little delta town of Zinnia, Mississippi, now has an actual business office. She has set up a couple of rooms of her family's plantation home, Dahlia House, as offices for herself and her partner, Tinkie. There's even a place for a receptionist's desk, just in case the business ever grows to the point that it needs one.
Sarah Booth's latest case begins when she is contacted by a nun from New Orleans. The nun is a friend of a woman who is now being held on a warrant from New Orleans in the local Zinnia jail. The woman, Doreen, is a spiritualist and alleged faith healer with a large following in New Orleans. She had a baby who had severe birth defects and the baby has recently died. An autopsy revealed that the cause of death, which was at first thought to be Sudden Infant Death syndrome, had actually been sleeping pills that were put in the baby's formula. The mother has been charged with murder in the case, but the nun doesn't believe she did it and she wants to hire Sarah Booth to establish her innocence.
This creates a bit of a problem for Sarah Booth who has to go to the jail to see Doreen. She had been trying to stay away from the sheriff's office so she wouldn't run into the sheriff, Coleman Peters, for whom she has strong and tender feelings. Problem is Coleman, who reciprocates those feelings, is trying to save his troubled marriage because his deeply troubled wife is pregnant, and he doesn't need to be tempted by Sarah Booth.
Meeting with Doreen does give Sarah Booth and Tinkie the sense that she is most likely innocent of killing her baby, but if she didn't do it, who did? Suspicion settles on the father, but who is that? Doreen refuses to name him.
Doreen is returned to the custody of the New Orleans Police Department and Sarah and Tinkie travel to New Orleans to continue their investigation. They are also (very conveniently) just in time for the Orange and Black Ball, one of the most popular social events of the year. Of course, the two get invited and, of course, just in time, a wealthy suitor from Sarah Booth's past, Hamilton, shows up to escort her to the ball.
In addition to being wealthy and cultured, Hamilton is incredibly handsome and is engaged in trying to make the world a better place. In other words, he is a paragon of virtues. He's also apparently very good in bed, though, naturally, Sarah Booth never gives us the details.
At length, their client, Doreen, is persuaded to give Tinkie and Sarah Booth information about the three men who could possibly be her dead daughter's father. One is a well-known evangelist/faith healer; one is a United States Senator; and one is the financial manager for Doreen's ministry. She had had sex with all three men in an attempt to "heal" them.
The plot becomes very convoluted, with many twists and turns, but I actually figured out pretty early who the culprit was here. That's always satisfying. In the end, Sarah Booth got it, too, and again saved the day.
But she lost Hamilton. And Coleman, at least for now. Coleman ends up taking his mentally deranged wife to a sanatorium in Arizona for the remainder of her pregnancy, so we'll have to wait for the next book to find out how all of that turns out.
Sarah Booth is once again alone at Dahlia House with her nagging ghost, Jitty, who had been the nanny for her great-great-grandmother; her dog, Sweetie Pie; and her horse, Reveler. Will she ever find true love? Probably not for that would put the kibosh on the greater part of the plots of these books.
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