“Game of Bones”
Author: Carolyn Haines
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Price: $26.00 (Hardcover)
“Game of Bones” is, unbelievably, the twentieth in Haines’ “Bones” series, starring Sarah Booth Delaney, private detective. With each novel, using the same set of characters, Haines must cook up a new crime, a new venue and if possible a new method of killing. And she has.
In this novel, we learn there is an archaeological dig happening, in the Mississippi Delta, but some distance from the river.
The mound being excavated is of the Tunica Nation and the dig is strenuously opposed by Peter Deerstalker, the tribal lawyer, who quite sensibly argues that the white folks would not be happy to see their own family graves being dug up, even after centuries.
The workers at the site are students, from two different colleges, getting academic credit. Work is going slowly partly because there have been sightings of a ghost wandering in the nearby woods; the students quickly flee the site at dusk.
Sarah Booth makes light of their fears, but readers know the logic-loving detective has Jitty, an antebellum ghost, living in her own home—Dahlia House!
Dr. Frank Hafner leads one student group, Dr. Sandra Wells the other.
These two academics are quarreling. Hafner professes strictly intellectual motives: uncover new knowledge, fill in gaps in Native American anthropology, and so on.
Dr. Sandra Wells, it is thought, has other ambitions. She wanted TV crews on the site and wanted to create a reality show around the dig and her competition with Frank Hafner.
There is drama and sensationalism all right but not the kind Dr. Wells craved. She is found hanging upside down, having been tortured, with her throat cut and the blood collected in an ancient ceremonial bowl.
Even though the detective, Sarah Booth Delaney, has a cat, Pluto, “Game of Bones” is more thriller than cozy. Exsanguination, we are told, is a particularly painful way to die.
And, later in the novel, Sheriff Peters is shot, not just once, but twice. Haines is not fooling around here.
There is no shortage of well-motivated suspects.
Tribal attorney Peter Deerstalker, for one, wanted work stopped.
Dr. Hafner hated Dr. Wells and he is sleeping with her graduate assistant Delane Goggins. (For the record, she is 34 years old.)
Hafner is the Indiana Jones of the Mississippi Delta, with charm and good looks: “very handsome…chiseled jaw, dimple in his chin, blue eyes the color of the March sky…broad shoulders and narrow waist.…” “He didn’t have the air of any academic I’d ever hung out with,” Sarah Booth tells us. “He was more…superhero.”
Dr. Hafner hires the Delaney Detective Agency to investigate the murder and clear his name.
Sarah Booth, her feisty partner Tinkie, and Sheriff Coleman Peters, now, finally, her full-time lover, get to work.
Dr. Wells having been so unpleasant, there are other suspects as well. Most of the students hated her, especially Kawania from New Orleans, who claims to have magical voodoo powers, and a computer geek, Cooley Marsh, who wants to write code for a video game, “Murder on the Mound.”
It comes up that this mound may be related to the travels of Hernando de Soto and may have Mesoamerican gold in it or, perhaps, the elixir of The Fountain of Youth.
Unusually for a series, it appeared that one or more of the main characters might get killed off. After all, that’s the way it famously happens in “Game of Thrones,” isn’t it?
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.