In rich, atmospheric mysteries set against the backdrop of modern-day Mississippi, Carolyn Haines has given the southern belle a brilliantly hip makeover. Now Haines and her unforgettable heroine, Sarah Booth Delaney, are back with a tale about skeletons in closets--and elsewhere.
Sarah Booth Delaney is no ordinary P.I. A born-and-bred Mississippi belle, she struggles to hold on to her family’s plantation and keeps up a running conversation with the ghost of her great-great-grandmother’s nanny, a busybody who decks herself out in a stunning new outfit every day--and schemes to save Sarah Booth from spinsterhood. Not one to wait around for a white knight, Sarah takes on the kind of cases no one else will touch. Like trying to exonerate a man accused of murdering Sunflower County’s most popular musician.
The two men met in prison: Ivory Keys, a gifted black blues pianist, and Scott Hampton, a rich white boy turned racist. Somewhere between the two men, a spark was lit. And by the time he came out of the joint, Scott Hampton had not only renounced his racist ways, he had learned to play a blues guitar that made grown women go weak in the knees. So why did Scott plunge a steel shank into his mentor’s chest? Ivory’s widow doesn’t think he did, and she’s paid Sarah Booth to prove it. No easy task, especially since the delicate racial harmony of Sunflower County is threatening to come undone under the heat of Sarah Booth’s investigation.
For a woman feeling a little heat of her own--navigating between a rich, available businessman, a married lawman with a waffling heart, and the sexy bluesman who is angling to become much more than her client--this case is taking dangerous twists. A town’s slumbering passions have awakened with a jolt, a matchmaking ghost is dressed up like Jackie O, and Sarah Booth is caught between her need to know the truth and the consequences it will have on her town--and on her life.
With riveting suspense and a sparkling cast of unforgettable characters, Carolyn Haines has woven a rich portrait of a part of America grappling with its past, its illusions, and its hopes. Crossed Bones is the most dazzling work yet from a uniquely gifted writer.
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Mississippi native Carolyn Haines, a former photojournalist, has written numerous books and was recently honored with an Alabama State Council on the Arts literary fellowship. She now lives in southern Alabama with her horses, dogs, and cats, including the real-life Sweetie Pie, where she is hard at work on the next Sarah Booth Delaney mystery, Hallowed Bones. Crossed Bones is her fourth mystery for Bantam Dell.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
My Great-Aunt Cilla was fond of saying that there's nothing like the feel of a blooded animal between a woman's thighs. Of course with Aunt Cilla, that might apply to a Thoroughbred or a Southern gentleman with good lineage. Although most of the women in my family have been cursed with the Delaney womb, Great-Aunt Cilla was the only one of my female forbears who didn't bother to hide her affliction. She was exiled to Atlanta for her honesty.
Lying here in the porch swing with my hound at my feet and a mint julep in my hand, I can't help but think of my ancestors and the history of this land I love. I've just concluded an Old South tradition-perusing my cotton fields from the vantage point of a horse.
Tidbits of Aunt Cilla's wisdom are coming back to me. Her womb might have had a vociferous appetite, but it was nothing compared to her brain. It was she who pointed out to me the two most potent symbols of the Old South: King Cotton and blood.
On my morning rides, I see the past, present, and future of my home: the cotton, with its green leaves covered in early morning dew; the whisper of money, of times long gone and of a way of life that seems both a dream and a nightmare, depending on perspective. The wealthy settlers of the rich Delta soil in Mississippi understood the powerful combination of horse and land, the addictive pleasure of riding one's property on a healthy and responsive animal.
Aunt Cilla had her own uses for healthy, responsive animals-especially of the human species. An excellent horsewoman, she was especially fond of grooms. Horses, leather, a virile young man-Aunt Cilla's favorite aphrodisiacs.
"Sarah Booth Delaney, you are one worthless gal. Out here sittin' on the porch, fantasizin' about lettin' the hired help poke you. If you were worth a lick, you'd be wedded, bedded, and bred by some respectable gentleman."
The disapproving tone belied the soft richness of the voice. And voice was all it was. Jitty, the itinerant ghost of my great-great-grandmother's nanny, had yet to materialize.
"I would have thought you'd be glad to know I was thinking about anyone, hired help or gentleman caller, pokin' me, as you so delicately call it." I was far beyond getting ruffled at Jitty's nagging. We were on old, familiar ground. My lack of use of the legendary Delaney womb was her favorite topic of haranguing.
"If you were thinkin' of a real hired hand, like that Willie Campbell fellow, I might be interested. You let that man use your land, might as well let him plow your furrow."
I declined to dignify her bawdy remark with a comment. Willie Campbell had leased the land around Dahlia House, and he had a fine crop of cotton in the ground. Egyptian cotton and the new strain that burst into boles of fiber already tinted green and blue. Ignoring Jitty, who was wavering in and out of existence at the foot of the swing, I sipped my julep and rubbed Sweetie Pie's belly with the toe of my boot.
"You lookin' mighty self-satisfied for a woman whose inner thighs are sore from a horse. There's a better way to get that lazy look on your face." She crystallized to the left of the swing, effectively blocking my view of the driveway.
My eyebrows rose in an inquisitive arch. Only yesterday she was one hot mama in spandex and spikes. Now she looked like Sunday morning church in a black-and-white photograph. Jitty was once again hip-hopping the decades, searching for the era that best suited her current attitude.
"What gives?" I asked, indicating the shirtwaist dress and sensible flats. "Your space boots need new heels?"
"I've been giving our predicament a lot of serious thought. What we need around here is some conviction, a dream, something to work toward. I'm gonna get it for us."
On my last three cases I'd been stabbed, shot, and generally bruised on all body parts. None of that struck fear into me the way Jitty did. I sat up a little straighter in the swing, taking care not to spill my julep. It contained the last bit of scraggly mint I'd been able to grow. "What do you mean by that?"
"I'm talking about passion and a belief in something. Have you forgotten your mama, Sarah Booth? She believed in something, and she fought to have it."
I nodded. "Yeah, I remember. Folks around here refer to Mama as 'that socialist.' "
"She wasn't a socialist. She was a woman who saw inequality, and she wanted to change it. She wanted all people, no matter what color or gender, to have equal opportunity."
"And she started a commune on this land, which nearly sent the entire county into a convulsion."
"It was your daddy who started the commune. Your mama just went along with it."
"You know, Jitty, if I'd had normal parents and been raised to be a Daddy's Girl, I might have turned out more satisfactorily, from your point of view."
I was a bitter disappointment to Dahlia House's resident haint. It was an uphill climb for Jitty as she tried to force me into the role of MFF, manipulative femme fatale. She wanted me wed and bred, or at least bred, so there would be an heir to reside in Dahlia House. Delaneys had occupied this land since before the War between the States. Jitty had no desire to find a new place to hang out should I not produce the next generation.
"You don't have to be a Daddy's Girl, Sarah Booth, but it would be nice if you'd bathe and hold off on the drinkin' until after lunch." She pointed at the julep cup in my hand. It was fine pewter, engraved with my mother's initials in an intricate pattern of twining ivy. "Puttin' that devil's intoxicant in a fine cup won't change what it is."
I looked at her from under a furrowed brow. "You're not turning into a teetotaller, are you?" I'd endured a number of different attitudes from Jitty, but I wasn't about to tolerate someone who lectured me constantly on my vices-especially not when that same someone would put me in the most intimate of acts with a perfect stranger if it would produce a child.
"Nothin' wrong with a drink ever' now and again, as long as it don't rob a person of her dreams. Looks to me like you might be headed down the path to destruction, what with your heels hiked up on the swing and those skintight britches clingin' to your ass."
I studied Jitty closer. She was wearing a dress that looked like it had come out of my Aunt LouLane's closet. One thing I'd always admired about Jitty was her flair. She could carry off just about any look. She'd even straightened her hair and curled it under. All she needed was a sweater thrown over her shoulders and a Bible in her hand. She'd make a perfect minister's wife, circa 1960-something.
"What, exactly, is it you want me to do?" I asked.
"It's a toss-up between findin' you a man and findin' you some work. Either one will do at this point."
The bullet wound in my arm had healed just fine. There wasn't a reason I couldn't get out and beat the bushes for a client. The truth was, I'd given in completely to the joy of riding Reveler and feeling the rhythm of the passing summer days. There was plenty of time in the future to concentrate on what I ought to be doing.
Jitty took two steps away from the swing to face the front of the house. The shadows of the pink lemonade and coral honeysuckle vines that crept up the trellis beside the porch cast an intricate pattern of light and dark over her, and I was reminded again of a black-and-white photograph.
She took a deep breath and slowly began to hum. Deep, rich, and throbbing with emotion, the sound seemed to seep from her, as she stared down the driveway. I was transfixed. With all of her talents, Jitty had never confessed that she could sing. I was also jealous.
"Sum-mertime, and the livin' is ea-sy. Fish are jumpin', and the cotton is high."
I closed my eyes and let the words slide through me. It was a song that always touched me, and in Jitty's powerful contralto, I felt the hairs on my arms stand on end.
"Your daddy's rich, and your mama's good-lookin'." She stopped abruptly, forcing me to open my eyes and glare at her.
"Now that you've shown me you can sing, keep doing it," I commanded.
"Shush," she said, cocking her head in an age-old attitude of listening. "If you ain't got the blues now, you're gonna," she said as she vanished into thin air.
"Jitty!" I hissed. I hated it when she delivered one of those enigmatic one-liners and then disappeared. "Jitty, you're cheating. You can't just say something like that and take off." But she could. Jitty could not be summoned or dismissed. If she'd ever been servile, she'd long forgotten the basic deportment.
"Sarah Booth?" The voice that called out held some concern. "Who are you talkin' to?"
I recognized John Bell Washington's voice instantly. He was a blues guitarist I'd met on my last case, thanks to the cyber-intervention of a teenager. Nonetheless, J. B. was a nice guy who'd risked a lot to help me.
"I'm over here in the swing," I called out to him, rising to give him a hug as he came up the steps to the secluded shade of the small side porch. J. B. was every woman's dilemma-handsome and frequently unemployed. The work schedule for a blues guitarist was strictly seasonal. J. B. had another major talent as a masseur when he chose to work the day shift, which wasn't often as long as his mama supported his desire to play music.
He walked around the corner of the porch toward me, a puzzled look on his handsome face. "Who were you talkin' to?" he asked again.
"Myself, I guess." I blushed becomingly. For all that I'd disavowed the tactics of a Daddy's Girl, there were a few harmless maneuvers that I deployed when necessary.
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Book Description Delacorte Press, 2003. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0385336594
Book Description Delacorte Press, 2003. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0385336594
Book Description Delacorte Press, 2003. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110385336594
Book Description Delacorte Press. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. 0385336594 New Condition. Bookseller Inventory # NEW7.0124233