The next charming mystery from Carolyn Haines featuring spunky southern private investigator Sarah Booth Delaney.
When a ritually murdered corpse is discovered at the new-found Native-American temple site smack in the middle of Sunflower County, Mississippi, the archaeology crew on the dig is immediately under suspicion with particular focus on its handsome, flirtatious leader, Dr. Frank Hafner. So when Sheriff Coleman Peters closes in on him, Hafner does the only logical thing: he hires the Delaney Detective Agency to clear his name.
Rumors swirl around Mount Salla, the burial mound created centuries before by the local Native tribes, and no one is sure what the site contains bones, pottery, treasures, or a curse but the victims start to add up. Sarah Booth and her partner, Tinkie, have too many likely suspects to whittle down the list. It’s a race against time once Sarah Booth’s resident ghost, Jitty, in the guise of various Native American warrior women, points to the waxing of the coming Crow Moon as the time of maximum danger.
Death and mystery cloak the site, and Sarah Booth isn’t sure who to trust or what to believe. But she won’t rest until she’s dug up the truth.
About the Author
Carolyn Haines is the USA Today bestselling author of the Sarah Booth Delaney mystery series and a number of other books in mystery and crime, including the Pluto's Snitch paranormal-historical mystery series, and Trouble, the black cat detective romantic suspense books. She is the recipient of the Harper Lee Award for Distinguished Writing, the Richard Wright Award for Literary Excellence, and the Mississippi Writers Guild Lifetime Achievement Award. She is a former journalist, bartender, photographer, farmhand, and college professor and lives on a farm where she works with rescue cats, dogs, and horses.
Read an Excerpt
March is the month when hope returns. Even a spirit sorely challenged and worn down finds renewal in a shaft of warm March sunlight or the sight of green pushing through the soil. The new plantings that stretch from horizon to horizon across the vast Mississippi Delta seem to vibrate with a soft green haze that is nothing less than magical.
It's the perfect, crisp morning for a horseback ride, and I've saddled Miss Scrapiron and set off around the western property line with my loyal hound, Sweetie Pie, at my side. The smell of the soil is familiar and calming, as is the motion of my horse. This is a morning of perfect awareness, a feast for the senses. I stop at a brake that bisects a field to take in the tiniest buds on the tupelo gum trees. Miss Scrapiron stamps her foot and snorts, impatient. She is a creature of movement, of elegant maneuvers, of speed and agility. She wants to run, and after I bid the spring buds a welcome, I loosen the reins, lean in to her neck, and let her sweep me across the land in a rhythm of pounding hooves that is as primal as a heartbeat.
I let her run until her neck is flecked with foam where the reins touch her, and when she slows of her own accord, I look back to see Sweetie Pie coursing toward us. She, too, is glad of a rest and flops onto the cool earth for a moment. Horse, dog, and human amble over to a small spring-fed creek swollen with spring rains. Sweetie Pie unceremoniously leaps into the middle of it, despite the chill, and comes out shaking.
In the stillness of the brake, I listen to the trill of tiny songbirds. They flash yellow and brown through the pale and leafless tree trunks. In another two weeks, the green haze will settle over the trees as winter yields to spring.
I awoke this morning after a troubling dream. Only the fragments remain — a bare-chested man wearing a bear-head mask. There are images scrawled across his chest with red, white, and black paints. I wonder if this is a visit from a past dweller on the acreage that comprises my property and home, Dahlia House. Long ago, before the white men came down in wagons to claim the land as their own, the Mississippi Delta was home to numerous indigenous tribes.
At times, most often dusk or dawn, I've seen the spirits of slaves or state prisoners contracted out for labor clearing the land or hoeing the long rows of crops. They are a vision from a long dead past, but I've watched them toil against the purpling sky, hearing the chants of the field hollers that allowed them to work in a steady, unrelenting beat. Those old work songs are the bedrock of the blues.
Today the fields are empty of ghosts. The sun and rain must do the work to bring the tiny plants taller. Humans have no magic for this part of the process. This is Mother Earth's gift to us. The vast acreage of Dahlia House is leased to a local farmer. I have none of the talents — or the love of gambling — that is necessary to put a fortune into a crop of corn, soybeans, or cotton and hope the weather and the market cooperate enough to bring a profit. I've saved out forty acres around Dahlia House for a hayfield where the same man who leases the property cares for the Alicia Bermuda grass pasture to make winter hay for my horses. That's risk enough for me.
I turn Miss Scrapiron toward home. I'm meeting the handsome sheriff of Sunflower County, Coleman Peters, for breakfast. He's cooking and I'm eating, which is a fine arrangement. Last night he worked late, so he didn't spend the night with me, but we'll catch up before we both begin our workday. His inclusion in my life has given me, like the land I love, a sense of balance. I'm still terrified of allowing myself to love him with everything in me, but on mornings like this, as I anticipate seeing him pull into the driveway and get out of his cruiser, I feel the shell around my heart softening. No one can protect us from loss or injury. If you love, you risk. I want to risk. I want to abandon my fear, but right now, caution is the only path I can travel.
"Sweetie Pie." I call my dog from the brake where she's gone sniffing the trail of a raccoon or opossum. She's a hunting dog who now seizes on the scents of evildoers and has more than once saved my skin from bad people. The small furry creatures that roam the land, though a point of curiosity, are safe from her. And from me.
The wind blowing across the wide-open fields has a chill to it, but the sunshine on my back warms me through the light polar riding vest I wear. Miss Scrapiron rocks my hips with her long-legged Thoroughbred stride. I close my eyes and simply enjoy the sensation of sun and movement. My cell phone rings out with "Bad to the Bone."
Tinkie Bellcase Richmond, my partner in the Delaney Detective Agency, is on the horn. Tinkie, aside from being my best friend, is the Queen Bee of all the Delta society ladies. She is a bred-in-the-bone Daddy's Girl, the 180-degree opposite of me. She holds teas, cotillions, garden-club gatherings, and debutante balls for the social elite. She knows the DG handbook of proper behavior backward and forward and manages to cram in her social obligations between caring for her husband, Oscar, and helping me solve crimes. Beneath the coiffed hair and haute couture wardrobe beats the heart of a forensic accountant. Tinkie's daddy owns the local bank and her husband is its president. Tinkie comes from money and she knows how to track it, find it, and sort through the many paper trails every criminal leaves behind.
"What's shaking?" I asked. I like to sit on my horse and talk on the phone. It could only be better if I had a cigarette. Sadly, those days are behind me.
"What do you know about the archeological dig at Mound Salla?" Tinkie asked.
"Let's see. No one knew the mound was actually a real Indian mound until recently, though it's been in plain sight for at least two centuries. Most of it is wooded, and even though it's bigger than several football fields, no one paid much attention to it. I guess we all assumed it was something built way back when to avoid flooding. Then there was that house on top of it that the Bailey family lived in." I shrugged. "It was just always there."
"Until recently. Now it's some kind of archeological hot spot."
"Right. A crew started digging back around Thanksgiving. It's a team of university professors, some students, some archeologists. They believe Mound Salla was a sacred site for the Tunica tribe that once settled all up and down the Mississippi River."
"How did you know all that?" Tinkie asked.
"Mound Salla is not on the Mississippi River but here in Sunflower County. That's why it wasn't really explored or excavated until recently. No one suspected it was a burial mound. It never made sense that Natives built a mound this far from their normal settlements."
"That doesn't explain why you'd know this." She sounded a little testy.
"I thought I might go and volunteer to help with the dig so I read up on it," I said. "I love the idea of studying the original people that lived on this land."
"Old pottery shards, arrowheads, and for your trouble you get dirt under your fingernails that takes a professional manicure to clean out. And for what?"
Tinkie had never enjoyed making mud pies — it wasn't her style. She was more the accessorizing kind of girl. I loved finding treasures, even buried ones. "It's exciting to find things that tell the story of the past. Archeological digs show the day-to-day life of people who lived hundreds of years ago. Their struggles and celebrations. Their beliefs. It's fascinating." Okay, so I was a bit of a history geek sometimes. Most Delta society ladies were all over genealogy, doing their damnedest to prove they were descendants of the original Mayflower refugees. Right. My reading of the Pilgrims made them a club I didn't want to join — they were religious fanatics and a rather unpleasant lot. I kept hoping for more exotic DNA. Maybe gypsy!
"Hey, Sarah Booth. Did you hear me?" Tinkie's voice came over the phone. "We need to run out to the dig today. And Coleman said to cancel breakfast plans."
"Why? Why is Coleman canceling breakfast and why do you want to go to the dig?" Tinkie wasn't about to volunteer as a worker bee. The day was sunny and warming, but the cotton fields were still damp from a recent rain. The gumbo, as the soil was called, was notorious for clinging in thick cakes to the boots of anyone foolish enough to walk through the fields. And Mound Salla was in a large wooded area of low ground between two vast plantings of cotton.
"There's been a death." Tinkie was excited and repelled. I could hear it in her voice. I was aggravated.
"Tinkie! Why didn't you say that right off?"
"It's not like the dead person is impatient, Sarah Booth. Time means nothing to the dead."
I wasn't so sure that was true. My experiences with the ghost of my great-great-great grandmother Alice's nanny, Jitty, had taught me that dead people were keenly attuned to the passage of time, and the ticking biological clock of my eggs. Jitty haunted Dahlia House — and me. She was my family and my bane. "Who died?"
"One of the scientists involved with the dig."
"Not Dr. Frank Hafner?" I was shocked at the thought. Hafner had been in and out of Zinnia for the past several weeks and was a poster boy for the dedicated scientist who also worked out at the gym. Handsome, charming, and reputed to be a ladies' man, he'd also headed up three of the most successful archeological digs of the past two decades. He was quickly developing almost a cultlike following among serious archeologists.
"No, not Hafner. It's his coworker Dr. Sandra Wells."
"What happened?" I had visions of walls caving in or perhaps an accident with a pickax. Digs were always dangerous because the method of removing the soil also allowed for cave-ins and mistakes.
"Her body was found hanging above an intrusive burial grave. It's this really deep shaft someone — and not someone associated with the dig — cored out of the mound. They were either going to bury Dr. Wells' body and got interrupted or they were looking for something," Tinkie said. "Oh, yeah. Dr. Wells was tortured."
That was a surprise. "She was murdered?"
"She sure didn't torture herself, so it would seem she's the victim of murder," Tinkie said.
"Thanks for the sarcasm," I said.
"Sorry, it's just that I met Sandra Wells. She was a guest speaker at the Zinnia Historical Society. Prima donna, and she was a piece of work."
In Tinkie's terminology, a "piece of work" was either a conniving woman who trapped men into marriage or someone who pretended to be someone they were not. "How was she killed?"
"Hung upside down and her throat was cut. She bled out into a bowl just discovered in the dig. A ceremonial bowl that the lead archeologist, Frank Hafner, said could possibly have been used for human sacrifice."
"What?" That was way beyond gruesome for my home county. Things like that didn't happen in Zinnia. We had our share of murders, but not ritualistic killings. "The Tunica tribe wasn't known for human sacrifice. They were peaceful until the whites began claiming all their land."
Tinkie was matter-of-fact. "I'm just reporting what Frank said. By the way, he's our new boss. I took the case. You're always saying how you need money, so he paid the retainer upfront. Now we should hustle over to the dig and see the body before Coleman has it removed. Doc's already there."
I nudged Scrapiron into an easy trot. It was hard to hold the phone, post, and talk, but I managed. "I'll head that way as soon as I get home. Maybe five more minutes."
"I'm going out there. I'll take some photos at the scene and start the interview process. Hafner hasn't been arrested yet, but Coleman told him not to leave the premises."
"If Hafner is innocent, did he have any idea who the murderer might be?"
Tinkie's laughter was clear and contagious. "He thinks it's a spirit guarding the burial grounds, which means he's not pointing the finger at anyone until he has more information. He has this woo-woo story about the student workers too afraid to stay there after dark because of some spirit plodding around in the woods. But he's smart enough to know he's going to be the first suspect. He and Sandra Wells hated each other."
"Then why was she at his dig?"
"It was sort of their dig. She was awarded a grant that totaled over three-quarters of a million dollars and with the grant money, she bought a lot of specialized equipment. That's a lot of money for a dig that isn't likely to yield gold or jewels."
No kidding. Other than pottery shards and a better knowledge of the Native Americans who lived in the region, there wasn't any wealth to be gained. The Tunica tribe that populated the Delta area, adding onto the mounds left by a much earlier people, was not warlike. They'd gotten on well with all the French and Spanish explorers who'd walked through the land, sharing their food and hunting skills. Trouble began when the white settlers claimed the land as their own. In the Tunica world, the earth belonged to all and was meant to be shared. The concept of fences or property titles didn't exist.
Tinkie cleared her throat. "Hafner has made headlines with some of his finds in the mound."
There had been news media, photographers from national magazines, a few international delegates, and some tribal officials at the site. I'd driven by the mound, which had been there for centuries beneath a gracious old plantation house. The Bailey family that owned the house had abandoned it years back, and not so long ago the house had burned to the ground. Until Dr. Frank Hafner showed up with his crew of college kids to excavate, no one had given the property a second thought.
Miss Scrapiron clopped down the driveway with a trot that was easy to post, and I hung up so I could unsaddle and hurry to meet Tinkie. My single desire was to grab a cup of coffee and slap some makeup on my face, more to avoid getting chapped in the windy sunshine than for glamour reasons. When Miss Scrapiron was running free in the pasture with her buddies, I hurried to the back door. Someone stood in my kitchen window.
I stopped dead in my tracks to study the strong profile of the woman in my kitchen. She wore her hair braided and pulled back in a deerskin sheath decorated with beads. Her blouse was of woven fabric. Whoever she was, she was striking and fearsome.
In the back of my mind, I suspected that Jitty was at work, and I had to wonder about my dream of the masked person and the sudden murder at a dig excavating a Native American burial area. Now a bronzed warrior goddess was standing in my kitchen.
When I opened the back door, she turned to face me and I heard the rattle of a snake and the low, throaty tones of a Native American flute.
"There is danger around you." She lifted one hand, palm outward, and made a motion that seemed to encompass the space around me. "The grandfathers are unhappy. The grandmothers weep at the destruction of their rest."
"Who are you?" I asked. I knew it was Jitty, taking on the persona of someone who had come to give me a warning.
"I am Lozen, warrior, medicine woman, and prophet of the Cheyenne Chiricahua Apache. I am the right hand of my brother, Chief Victorio. We shield our people in battle. We protect our right to ride free. Though we are gone now, even our resting places are destroyed for the greed of some."
"Is this about the archeological dig?"
"This is about your need to be strong. You will be tested. You, too, must stand and fight for what you believe in."
A premonition touched me. Jitty was forever deviling me with half-cocked theories and advice that would land me in prison for twenty years. But this was something different. This was chilling and had the feel of ancient wisdom brought to me from the Great Beyond.
"Don't talk in riddles. Please just tell me."
She lifted a small earthen bowl she held in her right hand. She dipped the fingers of her left hand in the bowl and drew three red marks on each cheek. "Chiricahua for the Red People. For the red clay that is our home. For the right to ride free."
"Jitty." I whispered her name, almost a plea. Lozen was a fierce warrior and she had scared me so badly I found it hard to draw in a full breath.
The face of the warrior began to shift and meld, modeling into the softer features of my beloved haint. "Jitty!" I was so glad to see her I wanted to hug her, but I would clasp only empty air.
When I saw the eye roll that was so typical of my sassy ghost, I exhaled a long sigh. "What in the hell are you trying to do to me? I'm not fond of your impersonations, but sometimes they're at least entertaining. That was downright unpleasant."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Game of Bones"
Copyright © 2019 Carolyn Haines.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I loved everything about the twentieth book in the Sarah Booth Delaney mystery series. I found Game of Bones particularly challenging – in a good way – as I absolutely did not guess the villain. I do love that Sarah Booth and her hunk of a sheriff are finding their way together (at long last!) but it does make the hazards of their work even more anxious and poignant for me. And Tinkie’s miracle? All I can say is, decide for yourself. As for me, I believe.
It has been a little while since my last Sarah Booth Delaney book. I am glad to say that as a character she still packs a punch, as does her best friend, Tinkie as the two demonstrate detecting at its best. I really enjoy not only the playful banter between Sarah Booth and Tinkie but also how far Sarah Booth has come to not only accepting Sheriff Coleman Peters as a partner in sleuthing but also as a partner quite possibly in life. Very interesting how archeology, voodoo, toymaking, and zombies all come together to make another great cozy mystery. As always, this unbiased review is given in exchange for an early edition courtesy of NetGalley.
Sarah Booth is a detective. When a murder is found on an archeological site, Sarah is hired by Dr. Hafner to find the murdered and clear his name. It seems the deeper Sarah digs into her investigation the more the violence escalates on the sight. Is the sight cursed? With the suspects count escalating and zombie like figures stalking, Sarah is hard pressed to find the killer before its too late. This was my first read in the Sarah Booth Delaney series, I know I was pretty ambitious jumping in at book 20, and here comes the but… But Haines writes strong characters, and a plot that stood on its own. At no time did I feel lost or had that playing catch up feeling. Game of Bones was a highly enjoyable book-cation. Haines delightfully pulled me into the Sarah and Tinkie’s world with a masterfully executed mystery that had me guessing till the end. I received this ARC copy of Game of Bones from St. Martin's Press - Minotaur Books. This is my honest and voluntary review.
An exciting mixture of mystery, romance, and the supernatural. Jitty's transformations are quite interesting. I appreciated the bits of Native American history blended into the story.
“Game of Bones” had me howling with laughter,; “Chablis stood guard, all 5 pounds of her .” It had me screaming out,”Don’t go into the woods, Sarah Booth, Don’t go into the woods!” This, to me, is the hallmark of an astoundingly good book. I’m INVOLVED in it. I’m worried to death about Tinkie climbing the burial mound in her high heels! Thank you again, Ms. Haines, for the chance to lose myself in a really good book; full of life’s glorious, inexplicably funny and not so funny moments!
One of the best! I held my breath and read as fast as I could. Thank you Carolyn Hanes
I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. As always, Carolyn Haines bring Sarah Booth and Tinkie to life in another great story. You will not want to put this book down, so be prepared for a reading marathon. Enjoy!
The private investigative team of Sarah Booth and Tinkie are investigating a murder by exsanguination during an archaeological dig in Game of Bones. Two competing archaeology professors set up an excavation on a Native American burial mound. To stop the work, a local Native American attorney files an injunction. When one professor is killed ritualistically, the other becomes the number one suspect though the attorney is also under suspicion. Professor Haynes hires Sarah Booth and Tinkie to clear his name. Despite warnings from a ghost and a psychic, Sarah Booth is determined to solve the case. Game of Bones is one of the best books in this excellent cozy mystery series. There is just enough paranormal activity to keep it interesting without overwhelming the dynamics between the living characters. The mystery was full of convincing red herrings making this tale a good choice for armchair detectives. 4.5 stars rounded up to 5 stars! Thanks to Minotaur Books and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Yet another excellent 4 star Sarah Booth Delaney mystery! Even though this is the 20th installment in the series, it still doesn't feel stale. This book follows Sarah Booth & her best friend & partner, Tinkie Bellcase Richmond, on a case at an archaeological dig after they are hired by lead archaeologist Frank Hafner. They along with Sarah Booth's love, Sheriff Coleman Peters, look to find out who killed the other lead archaeologist, Sandra Wells. The case takes twists & turns as another woman is found murdered at the dig site. The "critters" Sweetie Pie, Pluto & Chablis continue to be the extra help the detective team needs. While investigating, their friend Cece Dee Falcon lends the extra help she is known for. I love that Haines keeps Sarah Booth's deep ties & love for her family's past in the front of all her novels. It makes the character very relatable. Jitty's antics left me laughing out loud & I learned about historical women I otherwise knew nothing about through her, another regular feature of the books I love. My only flaw with this book was that I felt like we were missing some much loved characters. Madame Tomeeka only had a few very brief mentions which was surprising considering the occult/supernatural themes throughout the book. Harold also doesn't feature as much as in the previous books. We do see more of Millie, but I missed the dialogue with her I've grown accustomed to. Overall, Haines keeps the series going strong with this book & I look forward to see what Sarah Booth, Tinkie & the gang get into next! Thank you to NetGalley, St Martin's/Minotaur Books & Carolyn Haines for the electronic ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Fantastic Cozy Mystery This mystery has a bit too much graphic violence for a 'cozy', but I still enjoyed it. This book is the 20th in the series and the first that I have read. It stands alone extremely well. I enjoyed this book enough that I will be looking to read the other 19 books in the series. This book is a little longer than most. The author has used the extra pages to fill in needed detail and give the story more twists. There is a touch of paranormal activity involved, too. I fell in love with the characters and was drawn into their lives like good neighbors. I got this ARC book for free from Net Galley and this is my honest review.
This book was great! The usual great characters, dogs, and cat. Really a page turner. A lot of surprises.
f you enjoy a Southern cozy complete with a dig site, ancient ghosts, murder and suspense, you'll flip over this book! The publisher's blurb is pretty good, but doesn't make it sound quite as interesting as I found it. The characters are very interesting and I had no trouble keeping up even though I haven't read any others in this series. I loved it but don't want to do a summary or spoilers. Just read it and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! I requested and received a free ebook copy from St Martin's Press. Thank you!
Game of Bones is the 20th installment in the “A Sarah Booth Delaney Mystery” series. I really enjoyed this book and learning about the Native Americans (Tunica tribe) from that region of the Mississippi Delta as well as Native American women’s historical accomplishments . When Dr. Wells is found ritualistically murdered at the dig site the mystery begins. Private detectives Sarah Booth Delaney and her partner Tinkie Bellcase Richmond are called in to work on behalf of Dr. Hafner, as he is the prime suspect in the death. Will Sarah Booth be working with or against her boyfriend Sheriff Coleman Peters? Sarah Booth is a strong and intelligent protagonist and all the characters are fully developed with some quirky attributes. I loved how important Sarah Booth's friends are to her Tinkie, CeCe, Doc and Coleman. The inclusion of her haint (Dahlia House's ghost) and the fur-babies who help solve the mystery. There were plenty of twists and turns and lots of suspects to choose from. I found this book to be a real page-turner, suspenseful, read that had me guessing up till the end. I'll be reading more of this author, I highly recommend this book and series. I requested and received an Advanced Reader Copy from Minotaur Books and NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
I enjoy cozies but had never read anything by this author. I have to say I'm happy to have had a chance to read this book. It's actually book 20 in the series, and I may not have known some of the underlying issues or events that may have happened previously, but I didn't feel like I missed anything. I liked Sara Booth, Tinkie, Coleman, and all the other characters and critters that made up this story. I loved the twists and turns and the unexpected bad guy and the reasons behind all the trouble. A very satisfying cozy whodunnit! I received a copy of this book from the publisher, St. Martin's Press via NetGalley. My thoughts and opinions are my own and without bias.
Game of Bones by Carolyn Haines was one of those books that grabbed my attention from the first page and never let go until I reached the end. Sarah Booth and Tinkie are working for a university archeologist who is under suspicion of a ritualistic murder at his current dig site. Ms. Haines' characters are all fully developed now and they are still colorful, quirky and often snarky as these two formidable women work to find a murderer. The plot is tightly woven and there were twists, turns and enough suspects to keep me guessing. This one also showed Sarah Booth coming to some realizations about herself and Coleman. There's a touch of paranormal in this one as well as spooky sightings of a zombie - or was it? I never did suspect who the murderer was until the reveal which is something I appreciate in a well told mystery. I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader Copy of this book from Minotaur Books via NetGalley. All of the above opinions are my own.
It's just another day in the lives of Mississippi delta private eyes Sarah Booth Delaney and Tinkie Bellcase Richmond until they are hired to look into a murder at the Mound Salla archeological dig. It turns out the murder is just the first in many problems at the ancient burial ground. Each new book in this series of 20 is fresh and new. Sarah Booth evolves and changes but always stays true to herself. I enjoy not only the mysteries but also the development of her romantic relationships which have faced a lot of challenges. Thanks to Minotaur books and NetGalley for an ARC. The opinions expressed are my own.