My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I think I might have to categorize this book as one of my guilty reading pleasures. It's a bit of fluff - lighter than air really - but I found it highly entertaining. It's a book that fits well with the hot, sultry summer weather when you don't want to tax your brain too severely.
Sarah Booth Delaney is a spinster of 33 years with no prospect of a marriage anytime soon. Or ever. This is not a big point of concern to Sarah Booth Delaney, but in the Delta town of Zinnia, Mississippi, where she lives, it is the kiss of social death.
Sarah Booth (She's always called by both names - it's a Mississippi tradition.) has lived an unconventional life. After college, she went off to New York to try to make it as an actress. When that didn't work out, she returned to her family's ancestral home in Zinnia and started trying to figure out a way to save the farm and herself. The answer she came up with was to become a private investigator. So far, that has kept her afloat. Barely.
Although she's without family, she's not alone in the house. She has a redtick coonhound (which the author insists on calling a "red tic" hound) named Sweetie Pie and the ghost of her great-great-grandmother's nanny named Jitty. Jitty does her best to rule the roost and Sarah Booth and spends most of her time scheming up ways to get Sarah Booth married and producing heirs for the estate. She wants to ensure that she will have another generation of Delaneys to haunt.
The one-hundred-and-fifty-year-old Jitty is always trying to get Sarah Booth to get with the times and modernize her thinking. At one point, she lectures her:
"You're talkin' like a traditionalist. You only want to risk a man that you can pin like a bug and examine. You think you know Harold because he's familiar. Because he's geographically known. You think 'cause he's from right around here that you share values with him." She paused for effect. "That's a might big assumption, young lady."
And that's about as deep as conversations ever get in this book.
The main story concerns a highly dysfunctional family, the wife and mother of whom is a childhood friend of Sarah Booth. When the woman's abusive husband is murdered on their horse farm, in the stall of their most valuable stud horse, she immediately confesses to the murder and asks Sarah Booth to help find evidence that the man "needed to be killed." She's hoping this will sway a jury to believe the killing was justified.
Finding such evidence turns out not to be very hard. The man was really a piece of work and everybody pretty much agreed that he needed to die. But Sarah Booth is not comfortable with her friend's plans for a defense. She doesn't believe she killed anybody but rather that she's trying to protect someone. The most likely target for her protection is her fourteen-year-old daughter, Kip, a very troubled child.
Toss in a melange of characters to keep the plot moving and provide red herrings and you've got one engaging whodunit. Among those characters is the handsome horse trainer who makes all the local ladies want to sign up for lessons; the local girl turned country singer who's ready to make the big push to become a star; the singer's unsavory manager/husband; some gambling mafia types from the coast; a blues singer/guitarist; an Elvis impersonator; and Kinky Friedman. Yes, THAT Kinky Friedman; is there another? Then, of course, there are all the fellow "Daddy's Girls" that Sarah Booth grew up with.
Well, you get the idea. It's a wacky adventure from beginning to end, filled with a lot of Southern charm and just a few bad guys to season the froth, but they all get their comeuppance in the denouement.
Carolyn Haines' writing has been compared to Janet Evanovich and there are definite parallels between the adventures of Sarah Booth Delaney, P.I. and Stephanie Plum, Trenton, New Jersey bounty hunter. They both provide fun reads which seem to have no agenda except to divert the reader. No hidden messages or attempts to raise our consciousnesses. Sometimes, that's a good thing.
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