Author: Carolyn Haines
Publisher: St. Martin’s
Price: $26.99 (Hardcover)
New “Bones” Mystery Tackles Feminist Issues
“Independent Bones” is the 23rd in the Haines “Bones” series. At first, I thought this book would be set around the Fourth of July but that is not the case.
Once again we are in Zinnia, Mississippi, in the Delta, in the autumn. Sarah Booth Delaney is now happily engaged to the hunky sheriff, Colman Peters, and her partner in detection, Tinkie Belcase Richmond, is very, precipitously, pregnant.
At the opening of a new park, the speaker is Professor Alala Diakos, originally from Athens, Greece but now on leave from Ole Miss, living in Zinnia while writing a book on feminism and the abuse of women—financially, emotionally and physically She has podcasts, a YouTube channel and is big on Instagram and Twitter. “A social media maven,” Diakos is waging “a war on patriarchal society.”
She is heckled by Curtis Miller, a mean man who abuses his wife, Tansy.
Curtis has “broken her arms at least twice, fractured her eye socket, bitten off part of her ear, and broken her fingers.” Everyone in town knows this but Tansy never presses charges. In fact, she defends him, vociferously, in public.
Then Miller is murdered. Tansy didn’t do it but maybe the feminist /activist /theorist did.
Dr. Diakos hires Sarah Booth to find the killer and thus clear her.
We soon learn it’s not that simple.
While Diakos was teaching in Oxford, a professor well known for not only sleeping with his students, but actually beating them up, is murdered.
No women had pressed charges there, either. And there is another death, in Nashville, same story. In every case Alala Diakos was at the right time and place to have committed the murders.
In the Bones books up to now, it was always implicitly, inherently clear that Sarah Booth and her gang are powerful, resourceful, capable, courageous women. Tinkie, small but determined, famously, can persuade others to do her bidding. Millie at the café is their intelligence officer, gathering information. Madame Tameeka has some psychic powers useful in predicting the future. Cece, now an investigative journalist, used to be Cecil. She was brave enough to discard male privilege entirely and BECOME a woman.
In this novel, the implicit becomes explicit and there is a good deal of exposition, conversation about gender inequality. Jitty, Sarah booth’s antebellum ghost assistant, appears in the guises of outlaw women such as Bonnie Parker, Clyde Barrow’s partner, a killer and bank robber, and it is explained that women in the Old West had few career choices. Bonnie asks Sarah Booth not to judge her. Times were hard. “We killed some people but we let most of them go.”
Nevertheless, the game is afoot and Sarah Booth and Tinkie, aided more directly than ever by their pet dogs, sleuth around Zinnia, at a safe house for battered women, in the woods, at a hunting cabin, up in Oxford in the English Department, and, with some odd twists and turns, discover who killed whom, all the while with Tinkie about to pop, as it were.
They learn of a secret male organization, paramilitary, heavily-armed. “Fueled by lots of fear and anger” they want “to turn back the clock” “to keep the power and force women back to their place.” They plan to become politically influential in Mississippi.
Murder mysteries usually avoid social messaging, so this is a kind of experiment, but Haines knows her legions of readers well, and is probably correct: they will love it.
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.