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Tell Tale Bones

It’s time for another book review by Don Noble. This week, Don reviews “Tell Tale Bones: A Sarah Booth Delaney Mystery” written by Caralyn Haines.

In “Bones of Holly,” Sarah Booth and her partner Tinkie solved a mystery in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi in time to be home for Christmas Eve at Dahlia House, in Zinnia. Now, it is January. Sarah Booth tells us: “We’d been without work for more than two weeks now. It was time to be gainfully employed once again.” Two weeks? Even in populous cities like LA and Boston, the private investigators go longer than that between cases. The PI sitting bored at his desk is a convention of the genre, but not for these two.

The action begins in two seemingly unconnected ways. First, Tammy Odom, professionally known as Madame Tomeeka, herself a mystic consultant, reader of tarot cards and gifted with second sight and a sixth sense, goes to Sarah Booth for help interpreting a dream that is clearly modelled after Poe’s story “The Tell-Tale Heart.” There is a thumping under the floorboards and blood oozing. Is the murdered person communicating?

The other, perhaps parallel line is the news that Tope Maxwell, rich, arrogant lawyer and land developer—Sarah Booth hates to see houses built on rich Delta soil—has filed papers to have his missing wife Lydia declared legally dead. Lydia, a very wealthy heiress, disappeared almost seven years ago. Tope says he wishes to marry again—a nice, and very naïve girl named Vivian Dantzler. Lydia’s body was never found. Did Tope kill her? He may have, but in any case, he abused Lydia terribly. She was bruised, had broken bones, needed “sinus surgery,” in fact came back from her honeymoon with a broken wrist and a black eye. It is more likely she fled from him with a friend, feminist activist Bethany Carter, and, to add confusion, they may have gone to Afghanistan to teach or may even have been connected to the CIA. Lydia’s mother, Elisa, believes Lydia is alive somewhere and hires the PI’s to find the truth.

Sarah Booth and Tinkie visit Tope’s new girlfriend and find she has a “blue, purple and green shiner.” For a good while, there is extended discussion of wife abuse—its various manifestations, shelters for abused women, why women put up with it, historical, patriarchal, cultural patterns, problems of low self-esteem, self-blame, embarrassment, fear of not being believed. Once the action starts, though, it moves well and inventively.

In their search for Lydia, the PI’s learn several other women have disappeared; some have returned, some not. These women may have fled to seek abortions, or give a baby up for adoption, then returned or started over elsewhere. Their investigations lead them to a possible herbal abortionist, a marijuana farm, an abandoned cemetery as they seek the evidence needed to arrest and convict Tope Maxwell. Complicated machinations involve Madame Tomeeka, a séance, ghosts, a kind of play within a play—finally, a climactic and satisfying ending.

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.