My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Sarah Booth Delaney lays claim to being a non-traditional Southern woman. She is in her thirties, a time by which any self-respecting Southern Belle would be long married and raising a family. This is certainly the path that would have been chosen for her by Jitty, the ghost of her great-great-grandmother's nanny with whom she shares her home, Dahlia House, in Zinnia, Mississippi. Jitty watches over her and bosses and nags her, but Sarah Booth continues to go her own way.
She has eschewed marriage and is trying to establish a private investigation business with her best friend, Tinkie. The aim of the business is to provide enough money to save the family plantation home and support Sarah Booth in the style to which she is accustomed. So, yes, she is a bit non-traditional perhaps, but in one respect she is VERY traditional: She is always called by her double name Sarah Booth, never just Sarah. It's a Southern thang, dontcha know.
Sarah Booth has had some success on the few cases that she's had. She has shown a flair and an instinct for investigating. She will need all of that flair and instinct to bring her latest case to a successful conclusion.
A respected man of the community, a talented blues musician and owner of a blues club in Zinnia, has been brutally murdered in that club late one night. He was stabbed and some money was taken from the till. Later the murder weapon and blood-stained money are found in the motorcycle saddlebags of the club's guitarist and singer, the star attraction who brings the people in. He was also a friend of the man who was killed - a man he had first met when they were both in prison in Michigan.
On the basis of the circumstantial evidence, the guitarist/singer, Scott, is arrested and charged with murder. There is a racial component to the crime since the man who was killed was black and the man charged with the killing is white. This raises specters of past crimes and threatens to tear the little town and the county apart along racial lines.
The murdered man's wife, Ida Mae Keys, is convinced that Scott is not guilty and she hires Sarah Booth to prove it. Sarah Booth and Tinkie soon find that there are multiple complications to the case. The Keyses' grown son, Emanuel, is a highly educated and successful businessman who resented his father because he always felt that he took second place to the music with him. He is also a race warrior who believes in strict separation between black and white.
Two motorcycle-riding thugs who are friends of Scott's are in town and would agree with Emanuel on that point. They spout their white supremacist, racist rhetoric to anyone who will listen. It looks like the two extreme sides may be headed for a clash.
Meanwhile, a psychotic groupie/stalker of Scott's further muddies the waters and makes Sarah Booth's and Tinkie's investigations even more complicated.
The main conundrum, though, is why anyone would have wanted to kill the murdered man. He was highly respected, a man of peace who believed in the power of music to bring people together, but he wasn't a rich man and there doesn't seem to be any obvious reason for wanting him dead. Finally, perhaps two-thirds of the way through the book, Sarah Booth stumbles upon the motive and things begin to come together for the investigators.
As usual in these books, we are treated to some hot and toe-curling sex - at least we are told by Sarah Booth that it was hot and toe-curling. Of course, a lady never reveals the details. This time her partner is Scott, once he is bailed out of jail, of course. Jitty, who is usually quite anxious for Sarah Booth to jump in the sack and get on with producing a Delaney heir, does not approve.
Sarah Booth has another suitor this time, as well; a wealthy Memphis businessman with whom Tinkie and her husband Oscar set her up. He's everything that Jitty would approve of in a suitor, but, in the end, he doesn't ring Sarah Booth's chimes.
Maybe that's because she's really in love with a THIRD man, the local sheriff, Coleman Peters. Unfortunately, Peters is already married and both he and Sarah Booth are much too noble to violate his marriage vows.
Poor Sarah Booth and poor Jitty. It looks like they are never going to get that necessary and fully sanctioned bed partner for Sarah Booth. She may indeed be the end of the line for the Delaneys.
Never mind. There'll always be another mystery to solve.
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