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Ham Bones

By: Carolyn Haines
Reviewed by: Linda Busby Parker
Kensington Books, 2007
$22, Hardcover

Ham Bones is Carolyn Haines seventh novel in her Southern Belle Mystery Series. To date all of the previous six novels have had Bones in the title: Hallowed Bones, Crossed Bones, Them Bones, Splintered Bones, Buried Bones, Bones to Pick, and now Ham Bones. The Southern Belle Series falls in the genre of cozy mystery. The cozy generally has a female protagonist—a good girl with down-home values, a sharp wit, and a reasonably well-tuned ability to add up clues and solve a mystery, be that mystery great or small. Cozy fans are most often female readers who like a good beach read or a fun read on a rainy Saturday.

The Bones Series fits the bill nicely. Sarah Booth Delaney, the protagonist, operates her own P.I. agency in Zinnia, Mississippi, a small town in the Delta. Recurring characters include Sarah Booth’s loyal friend and partner, Tinkie, and the ghost, Jitty, who lives in the old Delaney mansion, Dahlia House. Jitty enjoys dressing in the lovely clothes of a pre-Civil War plantation mistress and often drops hints that assist Sarah Booth in solving a case.

In Ham Bones Sarah Booth herself is accused of murder. Sarah Booth, who has always dreamed of being a stage star (and possibly a screen star too), has an opportunity to serve as understudy to a big New York actress, Renata Trovaioli, when the traveling production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof arrives in Zinnia. Renata Trovaioli is hated by all. She’s both demanding and arrogant. When Renata is poisoned and Sarah Booth assumes the leading role, the professional step-up-the-ladder comes at a high cost. Sarah Booth is charged by Zinnia sheriff, Coleman Peters, with murder. Indeed, all the evidence leads to Sarah Booth as the killer.

Who really murdered Renata Trovaioli? This mystery must be solved quickly by Sarah Booth and her girlfriends, including Tinkie, Cece, and Millie, or Sarah Booth is destined for the slammer. Fortunately, “the girls” piece together the bits and pieces of evidence and zero in on the killer, saving Sarah Booth from stepping out in prison-orange as her new fashion statement.

The Southern Belle Mystery Series has been well received by readers because each novel is a quick, fun read, and because the writing is snappy. Carolyn Haines knows how to turn an ordinary (even clichéd) phrase into a concept both witty and humorous. When Haines describes best friends Tinkey and Millie, who come from disparate backgrounds, she writes: “Two women couldn’t be more different than Tinkie and Millie . . . Tinkie had grown up with the proverbial silver spoon; Millie had been in the kitchen polishing it.”

In the cozy, readers enjoy the constancy of characters, places, and principles. In the Bones Series, readers can count on Sarah Booth, Jitty, and Tinkie to deliver good ole down-home values with cunning humor and quick wit.

Linda Busby Parker, the author of the novel Seven Laurels, teaches fiction writing at the University of South Alabama.

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