“Charmed Bones: A Sarah Booth Delaney Mystery”
Author: Carolyn Haines
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Price: $25.90 (Hardcover)
Readers were astonished when Sue Grafton undertook to write a series of mysteries beginning with "A Is for Alibi." The series was projected to be 26 volumes long!
“Charmed Bones” is the nineteenth in Carolyn Haines' “Bones” series, so she is up to the equivalent of “S.” Haines’ mysteries are usually set in fictional Zinnia, Mississippi, in Sunflower County in the Delta, although she did move a couple to Dauphin Island and Costa Rica,
The Bones books can each stand alone, although there are themes that have run through them all, and some of those issues are resolved in “Charmed Bones.”
Sarah Booth Delaney has had a difficult, frustrating love life. After a near miss with the movie star Graf Milieu, she has come to realize that her first love, her childhood friend, Sheriff Coleman Peters, is the man for her.
Meanwhile, Sarah Booth's partner in their detective agency, Tinkie, a diminutive but feisty belle, is desperate to become pregnant. Her clock is ticking and she has medical problems.
As “Charmed Bones” opens, a trio of sisters, Faith, Hope and Charity Harrington, very attractive women in black leggings, skinny jeans and mini-skirts, all witches, have moved to Zinnia to open a private Wiccan school.
The laws of Mississippi are very flexible on private schools but no one anticipated this.
The sisters insist they mean no evil and have no connection to the "Dark Lord." They believe in “sisterhood, the moon, the power of white magic to heal and help, and the benevolence of the Goddess." They make potions, “but only those that bring about love and healing."
They mean to be defenders of the environment: "Without clean water and air, we have nothing."
Despite initial skepticism, before very long Tinkie drinks a potion to insure fertility and Sarah Booth has, on a string around her neck, a little bag of "herbs, quartz rock, some Apache tears, and magical charms," to help her bed Coleman.
Not too surprisingly, Sarah Booth is soon successful; we are still unsure about Tinkie, although she has high hopes.
In the meantime, at the mansion the Harringtons have rented, gothic horrors abound. Several bodies are discovered, including that of the owner, the famous and charismatic painter Trevor Musgrove. By their grotesque facial expressions, it appears the victims were frightened to death. As the investigation continues, the mansion reveals its secrets: hidden passageways, secret rooms, tunnels to different outbuildings.
“The Castle of Otranto” has been moved to the Mississippi Delta.
There are even intriguing paintings, all nude portraits, of local society women who had posed and fallen for Musgrove. Sarah Booth muses: "It was curious to me that ladies who spent thousands of dollars on their wardrobe were so eager to drop their clothes to pose for a nude painting."
Between the witches’ ceremonies—like a moon dance around a fire pit with “demonic silhouettes that writhed and contorted”—and the gothic accoutrements, this is a packed and busy book.
Sarah Booth investigates, day and night, with no time to cook, so she takes out from Millie’s café, with additional plates for her pets: “chicken salad plate for myself…hamburger steak and broiled catfish to-go for Sweetie and Pluto.”
The pets earn their keep, though, and save a lot of lives. The cat, Pluto, organizes a herd of feral cats into an impromptu combat squad and Sweetie Pie, the hound, seems to have developed the vocabulary of TV Lassie, understanding and carrying out complex orders.
Haines' readers will love it all.
Don Noble is host of the Alabama Public Television literary interview show “Bookmark with Don Noble.” His most recent book is Belles’ Letters 2, a collection of short fiction by Alabama women.