“A Garland of Bones”
Author: Carolyn Haines
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Price: $25.99 (Hardcover)
“Festivities and Folly in Cozy Christmas Mystery”
“A Garland of Bones” is Carolyn Haines’ twenty-second “Bones” book and I believe her first specifically Christmas-themed mystery.
Authors want to have a book out for Christmas, that’s for sure, but murder mysteries are not the most obvious choice for gifts for your aunt.
No worries here. Haines’ mysteries have roamed up and down the bloody spectrum but this one is suitable for hemophobes, the blood-and-death-averse. It rests on the cozier end of the spectrum.
Sarah Booth Delaney’s rich friend and sleuthing partner Tinkie decides to spend the week before Christmas enjoying the festivities across the state in Columbus, Mississippi.
Tinkie rents a stretch limo, with driver for convenience and so they can imbibe safely, and they, their mates, Coleman Peters and Oscar, Harold from the bank, the musician Jaytee, Millie who leaves her café for a few days, and Cece the transgender newspaper columnist come along. Cece will justify the trip by writing a few pieces for the Zinnia paper and perhaps bring home some ideas for community celebration.
They book into a lovely bed and breakfast and set about enjoying themselves.
Their first night, at a karaoke bar, there is a short in the mic and a local woman, Tulla Tarbutton, is shocked BUT NOT KILLED. The gossip in the bar is she is a “ho,” a homewrecker. “When she wants a man, she goes for him.”
Our gang, virtuous folk that they are, learn to their shock and horror that Columbus, Mississippi has a hot swinging scene, widespread infidelity. These are not wife-swapping parties; it is all semi-clandestine, on the down-low, but everybody knows.
I was surprised myself. The shenanigans in Columbus in 2019 seem more like 1975, but who can say?
Sarah Booth opines “infidelity was a dangerous game, particularly in a small town....”
The next day, in a truly wonderful scene, a brand new $70,000 Cadillac convertible is filled to the brim with fresh wet cement.
The owner, Bricey Presley, is howling. She too has been cheating, seeing someone’s husband, perhaps. The convertible may have been a “good-bye” present, and Sarah Booth concludes “someone is out for revenge.” She and Tinkie agree, “Let’s just be glad this isn’t Zinnia and we don’t know these people. We don’t have to get involved in this.”
Although Sarah Booth and Tinkie are confident of their mates’ loyalty, they keep a sharp eye out for female predators.
That night at a party in Clarissa Olson’s beautifully restored mansion, Rook’s Nest, Bart Crenshaw falls down a beautiful flight of stairs. An accident? Or pushed by an unhappy, discarded mistress?
A highlight of Christmas week is the Holiday Flotilla, Christmas on the river. The partiers go out onto the cold river on small, gaily decorated boats. You know what has to happen.
Throughout this week of observing sexual bad behavior, Jitty, Sarah Booth’s antebellum ghost companion, appears thematically, as Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction,” then Geena Davis as Thelma from “Thelma and Louise,” Bette Midler from “The First Wives Club” and so on.
One night there is mumming on people’s front lawns in Robin Hood costumes armed with bows and arrows.
Some bloodshed—but not too much.
Sarah Booth and Tinkie get hired by the very cynical Clarissa to find out what’s going on and they must maneuver the maze of infidelities and bad feelings back 20 years. Some spouses are hyper-sophisticated but others have feelings and some are angry enough to kill.
Not Clarissa herself, probably, who announces “sex has nothing to do with love…. Only a naive fool would confuse the two.”
“A Garland of Bones” has action, suspense, some tawdry plot complications and yet is pretty jolly.
Christmas in Columbus looks like a lot of fun.
Don Noble’s newest book is Alabama Noir, a collection of original stories by Winston Groom, Ace Atkins, Carolyn Haines, Brad Watson, and eleven other Alabama authors.