Bone to be Wild by Carolyn Haines is the 15th cozy mystery in the Sarah Booth Delaney series where the Mississippi private detective must investigate threats made against a famous blues band (available May 19, 2015).
You can’t think of the blues without dames like Ella Fitzgerald, Bessie Smith, Dinah Washington, and Sarah Booth Delaney. Never heard of Sarah Booth? Then poor you. She’s the hottest private investigator in Zinnia, Mississippi, and right now, maybe the saddest. Sarah Booth doesn’t sing the blues, but she’s experiencing them. Her fiancé has returned to California with family problems, and Sarah Booth’s heart is broken, just like her engagement.
Sarah Booth runs Delaney Investigations along with her best friend Tinkie Bellcase Richmond. If there’s a mystery to be solved in Zinnia, these two are usually on the case. They often work closely with Coleman Peters, the sheriff of Sunflower County, and have a host of Zinnia residents who generally help the poke around too. But perhaps the secret weapon that keeps Sarah Booth going is her resident ghost, Jitty, who can morph herself into any one of the famous blues singers. Her songs are often appropriate to whatever situation Sarah Booth is facing.
Bone to be Wild is the 15th book in the Sarah Booth Delaney Mysteries. Sarah Booth’s old friend, Scott Hampton, is bringing his special brand of the blues back to Zinnia in the wonderful old club located at the crossroads of Sawmill and Pentecost roads. It was rumor to be “the location where the devil made more than one bargain for a musician’s soul.” Playin’ the Bones would be the happening place — unless someone kept Scott from fulfilling his dream.
Scott and his band, Bad to the Bone, made a name for themselves while touring in Europe. Now they were ready to come back home and play their favorite songs for the hometown people who’d help them get their start. Scott’s receiving threatening phone calls, however, that say band members will die if the club opens. Scott asks for Sarah Booth’s help with the band’s problem.
“The caller said death was stalking each of us and would strike when we least expected.”
That got my attention. Some folks didn’t like the blues for what they labeled religious reasons, and others because white boys were playing what was once considered traditionally black music. And some people resented what they viewed as Yankee musicians coming to town to own businesses and put local musicians out of work. But to threaten bodily harm or death was a bit over the top, even for the ignorant/backward contingent.
“Male or female caller?”
“Death was stalking” was a peculiar way to phrase the threat. “Did the caller specifically refer to the band members?”
He shook his head. “I closed the deal the first of October, but we just got into town last week. We’ve been unpacking and working on the sound system, finding a cook, deciding on hours and music and how this is going to operate. I want Playin’ the Bones to be the premier blues club in the Southeast. Memphis won’t have anything on us.”
When I shared with my friend, Mary Ann DeSantis that I’d enjoyed a book by Carolyn Haines, she told me she and Carolyn had attended journalism school together at the University of Southern Mississippi and even worked for the same newspaper when they got their first jobs. At that time, Carolyn had worked as a photographer, and Mary Ann said she was very accomplished with a camera.
Carolyn is also an avid animal lover, and that comes through in her stories. Sarah Booth has her animal sidekicks, Sweetie Pie, her red tick hound, and Pluto, the cat. While exploring Carolyn’s website, I found she has a host of animal friends sharing her home in Alabama. All the dogs and cats are rescued animals, and she owns three horses, just like Sarah Booth.
As expected, Sarah Booth and Tinkie run into lots of problems while trying to find out what evil force is stalking Scott and his band. Could it be his former band manager who left the band in Europe or the slick, fast-talking Yancy Bellow, who is pressing Scott to let him be a partner in the club, or is it the dark reverend who has a religious cult on the outskirts of town and is constantly preaching about listening to the blues leading to sins of the flesh?
Things take a dark turn when the likeable bartender is killed in a drive-by shooting on the club’s opening night. Fear takes the microphone as Scott faces more threats to band members or financial failure if he can’t keep the club going. In the midst of her big case, Sarah Booth also has to deal with her nemesis, Gertrude Strom, who in her hate for Sarah Booth, shot Graf Milieu, the PI’s fiancé. Though she was in jail, there’s a chance the judge might grant Gertrude bail.
Yancy leaned down and lowered his voice. “You know Gertrude Strom will have a bail hearing today? She’s asking for a reduction in the half-million bond the judge set. Highest on record, I do believe. I anticipated you and your fiancé would be at the courthouse, Sarah Booth.”
I must have blanches because Tinkie stepped between us. “I think they’ll call Sarah Booth when they need her. Gertrude is the unpleasant past as far as we’re concerned. We have a new client to attend to.”
“Anything interesting?” Yancy asked. “I’ve watched with fascination the way you two dispatch cases. Bravo! If I ever need any investigative work done, I know exactly who to call.”
“We’d appreciate your business,” Tinkie said, taking my elbow and leading me out of the café.
“Get in the car,” she directed. “Just get in and sit down.”
“Why didn’t someone tell me about Gertrude?” I asked. I wasn’t angry, just flattened. This was the woman who’d shot my fiancé and sent my relationship spiraling. She’d targeted Graf because she thought my mother had betrayed her. In an attempt to poison a meddling college professor, Gertrude killed a harmless graduate student. Gertrude was a hot mess, and if she got loose on bail, I had no doubt she’d do whatever was in her power to harm me and those I cared about.
Carolyn has an easy reading style that takes you right down to the Mississippi delta. I really like her characters because they are not tiresome stereotypes but well-developed people who could be your neighbor or your best friend. This book was my introduction to the series, but I definitely want to go back and read it from the beginning to see how Sarah Booth made her way to this point in her story. The book stands alone well, though, so there’s no need to worry you need to read the entire series to enjoy this one.
There’s also a little romantic element skirting around the edges of the story. While Sarah Booth is trying to solve the mysteries going on in Zinnia, Jitty, her ghost friend, and her business partner and other friends in town keep reminding her that losing her fiancé doesn’t mean her love life is finished. Some of her male acquaintances, including the handsome Scott Hampton, remind her there are plenty of candidates willing to step up and take the place of the man who left. Sarah Booth needs times to grieve and heal, but she does feel hope in the midst of her heartache.
Whether you’re headed to the beach, a mountain retreat, or sitting by the pool, this is a good summer read. And being the good writer that she is, Carolyn Haines ends the book in a way that makes you want the next book now. Sigh…I hate the waiting.
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Leigh Neely is a former journalist and editor who now writes fiction and articles for regional magazines. She and her writing partner, Jan Powell, are the authors of Second Nature by Neely Powell, and the trilogy, “The Witches of New Mourne.” She also writes for the popular blog, WomenofMystery.net. Her short stories are in the anthologies, Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices and Murder New York Style: Family Matters, put out by the New York/Tri-State Sisters in Crime.
Read all of Leigh Neely's posts for Criminal Element.