My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I felt the need of something light and fluffy to read as an antidote to the winter doldrums. There's not much that is lighter or fluffier than Carolyn Haines' Southern Belle mystery series. I have been occasionally reading the entries in this series for a while, maybe one or two a year, and so I decided to grab the next one, Bones To Pick, and settle down for a cozy reading experience.
Sarah Booth Delaney had failed in her attempts to break into the acting profession in New York and had returned home to the Mississippi Delta town of Zinnia about a year ago. Since then, she has stolen her best friend's dog, decided to become a private investigator, set up a PI business with her best friend as partner, engaged in a series of hot and heavy short-term romances, fallen in love with the (married) county sheriff, solved several murders, saved the family home from bank foreclosure, and acquired a horse and a hound. Yes, it has been a busy year.
Dahlia House, the Delaney family home, has a ghost - a haint, to use the proper Southern expression - named Jitty. In life, she was the nanny of Sarah Booth's great-great-grandmother; in death, as a haint, she is Sarah Booth's boon companion who dresses in period costumes and watches over her, never leaving the family home. She gives Sarah Booth raunchy advice on her love life which is Jitty's main concern. She is very anxious for Sarah Booth to get married and start reproducing so that there is another generation of Delaneys to keep Dahlia House going.
Now, Sarah Booth is called to the scene of a brutal murder. A young woman had her face pushed into the mud in a cotton field and was held there until she smothered - this after having been hogtied and dragged for a distance behind a pickup.
The murder victim, it turns out, is the author of a recently published tell-all memoir that named names and told the dirty little secrets of some of the most prominent and powerful families in the Delta, any one of whom would have been happy to see her dead. The list of potential suspects is long.
The night before the victim was murdered, she had had a very loud, heated, and public argument with her partner at the local watering hole. On scant evidence, her life partner, a woman named Allison, is arrested on suspicion of her murder. Allison's parents have disowned her because of what they consider to be her scandalous life, but her brother, Humphrey, hires Sarah Booth to prove his sister's innocence.
Sarah Booth and her friend and partner, Tinkie, proceed with their typical convoluted investigation, which mostly involves visiting local clubs, bars, and restaurants and talking smack with the patrons. As usual they utilize the services of their good friend, the local newspaper's transexual society columnist, CeCe. The trio's conversations are all bitchy good fun as they dish the dirt on the local high and mighty members of society, one of whom may be a murderer.
Almost by accident, Sarah Booth and Tinkie uncover the information that the murder victim had received threatening notes, and then, additionally, they stumble upon the fact that other people who had died "accidentally" had received similar notes before their deaths. Is there a serial murderer loose in the Delta?
At length, the investigators discover that all of these victims were linked in some way to a school for young ladies, the Carrington School, that specializes in turning out the perfect Southern Belles to cater to their well-born husbands' every desire. And, surprise, surprise, the headmistress of the school is in town for the wake and funeral of the murder victim, one of her "girls." Hmm...I wonder if there could be a connection.
As usual, there is a lot of angst going on in both Sarah Booth's and Tinkie's personal lives, as they attempt to solve yet another murder. But we know how all of this is going to end - with their fledgling detective agency wreathed in clouds of glory once again. Reading these books is a guilty pleasure of mine, but the emphasis is on pleasure.
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