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“Bones of Holly: A Sarah Booth Delaney Mystery” By: Carolyn Haines


“Bones of Holly: A Sarah Booth Delaney Mystery”

Author: Carolyn Haines

Publisher: Minotaur Books

New York, 2022

Pages: 352

Price: $26.99 (Hardcover)

Haines Takes Her Crew To the Gulf Coast for Christmas

“Bones of Holly” is, of course, the Carolyn Haines Christmas book for this year. It is the 25th in the series.

How does Haines do it? Keep it fresh and avoid repetition?

There is an answer, of course.

The home place for these fictions is Zinnia, Mississippi in Sunflower County in the Delta, the Cabot Cove of “Bones” world.

Haines has, over time, moved the action around, to Dauphin Island, even to Costa Rica.

This episode is in Bay St. Louis.

The first few stories had Sarah Booth and her friend and partner Tinkie at the center, aided by their female buddies--Cece the transsexual journalist, Millie the café owner and Tamika the spiritualist.

Sarah Booth’s heartthrob, Sheriff Coleman Peters, and Tinkie’s husband, Oscar, the bank president, were kept at a distance—often in the dark—about what the female sleuths were up to. No need for them to worry.

In this novel, the men are fully engaged. Both, along with Harold, Oscar’s right-hand man, are with Tinkie and Sarah Booth who have been invited to judge a Christmas tree decorating contest with 300 entries at the public library. They plan to combine this chore with a short, pre-Christmas vacation. (The men visit the casinos.)

The trees are fantastic. If there is such a contest I want to go to it. One tree was “made of driftwood and adorned with images from Walter Anderson.” Another was decorated with Barbie dolls, another with papier-mache magnolias.

Two of the other judges were supposed to be the local writing celebrities Janet Malone and Sandra O’Day. Both are bestsellers; Malone writes “scandalous, sexy thrillers” and O’Day writes lively historical nonfiction.

The two lady writers are famously awful to each other and actually have a cat fight in the local bookstore.

Janet Malone screams “you plagiarizing hussy,” and O’Day responds, “‘You’re a has-been. If your characters didn’t jump in the sack every three minutes, your book would only be blank pages.”

Janet retorts: “’And if you jumped in the sack on occasion, you might not be such a pinch-lipped spinster…you’re just a dried- up, angry old prune.’”

They SEEM to hate each other but these fights get huge coverage, and sales for both writers soar.

At the present moment, each is writing an account of 1920s crime in Bay St. Louis, where a lot of liquor smuggling took place. There is also an old mansion, now owned by Sandra, built by Al Capone for his mistress, which is perhaps the hiding place for his fortune—as if he were an eighteenth-century pirate.

Then Sandra and her faithful assistant, Daryl Marcus, who may or may not be her lover and who may or may not be gay, disappear.

Have they really been kidnapped? Is this a publicity stunt, a hoax?

Janet hires Sarah Booth to find Sandra. She’s worried--or is Janet in on it, too?

The sleuths put their vacation on hold and investigate the old mansion which is as creepy as a gothic castle. Capone built secret escape routes, hidden passages, even a crypt.

They run into a local Jim Bakker-type preacher, leader of a “prosperity church with a campus like Disneyland, complete with golf course.” Sarah Booth disapproves: “it reminded me of a country club for God. If God had any use for country clubs.” The preacher drives a Lamborghini—a vile character, but is he involved?

They look into the backgrounds of the different players and no one is exactly who she pretends to be. There is real violence and danger, but the sleuths are supported throughout by their mates— Oscar searches financial records and Coleman helps the local P. D.

Harold, the quiet, conservative bank officer, falls for flamboyant Janet.

Kidnapping, hidden treasure, creepy mansion, gorgeous Christmas trees, December at the shore. What’s not to like?

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.

Don Noble , Ph. D. Chapel Hill, Prof of English, Emeritus, taught American literature at UA for 32 years. He has been the host of the APTV literary interview show "Bookmark" since 1988 and has broadcast a weekly book review for APR since November of 2001, so far about 850 reviews. Noble is the editor of four anthologies of Alabama fiction and the winner of the Alabama state prizes for literary scholarship, service to the humanities and the Governor's Arts Award.