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Alabama Shakespeare Festival Enter for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Lights, Camera, Bones

It’s hard to believe, but “Lights, Camera, Bones” is the twenty-seventh in the Sarah Booth Delaney mysteries. Carolyn Haines, surely one of the most productive authors in the country, has used various techniques to keep the series fresh, most notably moving the characters, on vacation or business, or whatever, to other places. Once they were all in Costa Rica.

In this novel she keeps things fresh right there in the Mississippi Delta. Over In Greenville, a movie is being made. It will be a dramatization of the horrors and devastation of the 1927 Mississippi River flood, a flood that over-ran the levees, and drowned the town and thousands of acres of valuable farmland.

The writer, director and hero/star of this action movie is a handsome, affable young man, the improbably named Marlon Brandon. (Brandon was on his birth certificate; he adopted Marlon.)

This fellow is the grandson of Senator Brandon, Mississippi plantation owner and political powerhouse. No one but Marlon sees the entire script. He has secret surprises. The family was wealthy long before the flood and, oddly, while most people were bankrupted, their finances were not ruined by the devastation.

Brandon's movie, many readers will remember, is modelled after "Lanterns on the Levee,” by William Alexander Percy, a popular book which has since become very controversial. The wealthy landowners prevented the agricultural workers from running away to safety, sometimes at gunpoint, and forced them to work on reinforcing the levees, to protect land none of THEM owned. Percy also declared in “Lanterns” that "Share-cropping is one of the best systems ever devised to give security and a chance for profit to the simple and the unskilled." Many disagree.

Sarah Booth and her detective partner, Tinkie, are touring the set, admiring the actors and enjoying the Hollywood ambiance when a young crew member goes missing, possibly drowned. Then his foot is discovered, having been bitten off by a shark. Yes, a bull shark can live in fresh water but how did this shark, named Betty, get to Greenville? By herself or was she transported?

Sarah Booth, who is, remember, the creation of Carolyn Haines, who runs an enormous animal rescue and shelter in Semmes, wants divers to catch the shark and return it to the Gulf. The more environmentally sensitive characters, shark-huggers, repeat, several times, that the shark is just doing what sharks do. As with Percy's characterization of sharecropping, others disagree. Kill that shark right now!

A crew member is shot—no one suspects the shark—and Marlon disappears, perhaps kidnapped, but by whom? It becomes clear that two mysteries need to be solved. One: Who is shooting and abducting people right now? And Two: How was it that the Brandon family survived the Great Flood with more cash than before, able to buy up land at low, public auction, bankruptcy prices?

 

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.