In GURU BONES, beloved author Carolyn Haines returns to Zinnia, Mississippi, in a short mystery that will delight fans and new readers alike.
Southern-belle-turned-PI Sarah Booth Delaney is unenthusiastic at best when her friends rope her into attending a health food and lifestyle seminar. Priya Karsan, an internationally known activist, is in Zinnia for a lecture. But the lecture takes a turn for the deadly when there's a body discovered in the venue's kitchen. As Sarah Booth and her partner at the Delaney Detective Agency, Tinkie Richmond, tackle the case, Sarah Booth quickly realizes there's a lot more to Priya and her activism than meets the eye.
About the Author
Carolyn Haines is the USA Today bestselling author of over 80 novels in a number of genres, mostly mystery and crime. She is the author of the long-running Sarah Booth Delaney mystery series, the Pluto's Snitch paranormal-historical mystery series, and the Familiar Legacy romantic suspense series featuring Trouble the black cat detective. She is the recipient of the Alabama Library Association's Lifetime Achievement Award, 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.
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By Carolyn Haines
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2017 Carolyn Haines
All rights reserved.
"Dah-link! You must come with Tinkie and me! We'll get the toxins pulled from our bodies through a cleansing ritual on the soles of our feet. I'm told it's better than sex, and you know how good that is! And we'll have massages and facials. Maybe even a bikini wax. I've signed up for tantric sex classes as a Christmas present to Jaytee and myself."
Cece Dee Falcon, society editor for the Zinnia Dispatch, babbled on about the upcoming activities and approaching holidays. At the phrase "cleansing ritual," I balked. I wasn't about to be caught up in the Black Hole of Healthy Living that was all the rage.
"Thanks, but no thanks," I said. "You and Tinkie have at it."
My partner in the Delaney Detective Agency, Tinkie Bellcase Richmond, had already signed on to Cece's health agenda. Recruiting me wasn't going to happen. I liked my chemical-laden chips and flavonoid-filled cookies. I kicked back on the front porch of Dahlia House, my family home, the telephone to my ear, listening to Cece and sipping Jack Daniel's on the rocks.
Earlier, I'd ridden Miss Scrapiron, then consumed a big bowl of tortilla chips and salsa, chased with cheese and crackers. Jamaica Almond Fudge ice cream would be the dessert course. If I had all the toxins pulled out of my body through my feet, my head would collapse.
"Sarah Booth, you are registered! You can't back out now."
Delay through conversation was my tactic. "I thought you were covering a story on the Food Guru."
Cece had been wildly excited about international celebrity Priya Karsan coming to Sunflower County to lecture on the dangers of food additives, pesticides, chemicals, and genetically modified organisms, better known as GMOs. Cece was a recent convert to GMO-free and organic foods. She'd lost ten pounds and seemed to have an inner glow — which lit the fuse of my envy bomb, but not enough to mend my bad-food ways.
"Oh, I wouldn't miss the lecture for the world," Cece assured me. "And I have an interview with Ms. Karsan afterward. I can't wait to hear what she has to tell. She has single-handedly brought three food giants to their knees, and her campaign against the herbicide NoRoots has almost put Gyndrex Chemical Corporation in the red. But before we sign on as soldiers against poisons, we must purify the flesh. You know Dorinda Beauchamp has worked tirelessly to bring this event to Sunflower County. I promised her I'd be there with all my friends."
Dorinda was a mover-and-shaker in Mississippi Delta society. I didn't want to get on her bad side, but I still resisted. "I think I'll pass on the spa day, Cece. But I'll attend the lecture."
"None of that, Sarah Booth. Tinkie paid for your spa treatment. Dorinda converted The Club into an Arabian Nights theme with manipedis, massages, mud baths, the whole works, all done by these incredibly handsome men she rounded up in Los Angeles."
"I only said I'd attend the lecture." If I didn't hold to my guns, I'd be sweated, pummeled, exercised, and detoxed to within an inch of my life.
"Oh, you'll love spa day. By the way, who are you bringing to the lecture as your date?"
"Bringing?" I sat up. I should have known better than to believe Cece's manless menu. She was head-over-stilettos in love with Jaytee, the harmonica player in the blues band Bad to the Bone. She could barely go to the restroom without Jaytee.
"You know my hair is just growing back." I'd gotten too close to the flame in my last case and my chestnut locks had been sacrificed. "I look like Woodstock. I'm not bringing anyone. This was supposed to be a girls' night out."
"I sent a text three days ago saying I'd secured the extra tickets for each of us to bring a date. I have Jaytee, and Tinkie has Oscar. So who are you inviting? That handsome blues player Scott Hampton? Or maybe Sheriff Coleman Peters will bring some law and order to the day. What about Harold? He loves to try new things and he can always get away from the bank. Or is there a new man?"
There was no new man and I didn't want there to be. I was still recovering from a lost love, and my feelings for the above-mentioned men were complicated. "I'm coming stag. And don't push it. I'm not all that charged up to hear someone tell me everything I love to eat and drink is bad. I refuse to have my diet analyzed while I'm on a date. How romantic to hear my arteries are clogged and my brain's under the influence of food chemicals that act like cocaine to turn me into a potato chip addict. That's a real turn-on to a guy."
"Are you sure you don't want to invite a date?"
"Then I'll use the extra ticket to invite who I want." Mischief dripped from her voice. "I'll surprise you."
"Oh, Maleficent, I bow to your darkness."
"Dah-link, you don't know the half of it. I'll pick you up at eight in the morning. By the time Dorinda's Hollywood hotties finish with you, you'll be toxin-free and filled with so much sunshine, you'll fart flowers."
"Why does that sound like a threat?" I asked.
"Because it is. Ta-ta!"
I clicked off the phone, and turned to my red tick hound, Sweetie Pie Delaney, for consolation. "She's going to do something awful to me."
Sweetie let out a low moan in the best Delta blues tradition. Pluto, the black cat I'd inherited from an heiress on a prior case, came down the stairs with the grace of a god descending Mount Olympus. He sauntered up to me, tail straight in the air, reached up, and dug his claws into my thighs.
I marched inside to my bedroom. There was no sympathy for my plight in Pluto's black little kitty heart. He reminded me an awful lot of Jitty, the nearly two-hundred-year-old haint who tormented me night and day.
As if my thoughts had conjured her, Jitty appeared at the foot of my bed. She had the wardrobe department of the Great Beyond at her disposal, and I'd never seen her wear the same outfit twice. She was beautiful, young, thin, and never aged or gained a pound, but today she looked hot and constrained. The high collar of her severe black dress would choke me to death. The skirt had a pinched waist, and the hem swept the carpet.
"What gives with the widow's weeds?" I asked.
"Tell the farmers to raise less corn and more hell!" She shook a fist. Her hairdo's little topknot quivered with her passion.
Oh, I knew that quote. It came from Mary Elizabeth Lease, the populist female orator, who campaigned for workers' rights in the late 1800s. She'd been an icon of my mother's. I'd been so taken with Ms. Lease's bravery and good sense that I'd written a paper on her in a high school social studies class.
Obviously, Jitty had caught a whiff of my proposed visit with Priya Karsan, the Food Guru, who was also a populist revolutionary, defending the masses' right to know what was in the food supply. Jitty had decided to put a historical slant on women who fought for change and equality. My mama would be proud of her.
"Did the farmers listen to you?" I asked, pretending I conversed with the ghost of Mary Elizabeth, instead of Jitty. My first encounter with the Dahlia House haint had scared me witless, but I'd adjusted to Jitty's pranks and sometimes sage advice.
"The farmers listened, and so did the government. We made progress. We marched forward. But all we worked for has come undone. I said in many of my speeches that Wall Street owns the country. It is no longer government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street, and for Wall Street. Now we're back there again."
Mary Elizabeth had had a powerful gift of oration, and Jitty could emulate her perfectly. As best I could tell, Americans had little ability to learn from history. We were doomed to repeat the past, again and again.
My slender visitor's arm swept the room. "Big Ag has all but wiped out the family farmers. Since corporations are people, maybe they should let tractors vote."
Mary Elizabeth's pale complexion gave way to the mocha tones of my ghost. The populist orator's proper diction dissolved into the soft drawl I associated with my heritage and my haint. It was Jitty who said, "The past has a fine list of female rabble-rousers to learn from. You try to stay above it all, but that Priya Karsan is the real deal, too."
"I don't want to be a rabble-rouser, and I don't want to give up salt and sugar." I went into the bathroom and turned on the shower. The day had fled and I was dirty, stinky, tired, and ... hungry. "Can we pick up this debate tomorrow?"
"If you had a man to occupy your nocturnal thoughts, I wouldn't be worried about farmers and such. I'd have the pitter-patter of little baby feets to keep me busy."
I slammed the bathroom door and stepped beneath the wonderful spray of hot water.
The next morning, I was half-asleep when Cece picked me up in her hybrid. She'd stepped to the fore of the fight to save the environment, and the interview with the outspoken Priya Karsan was right up her alley. Karsan had organized sit-ins on the sidewalk in front of Hobby Foods and Lila Bee Enterprises. She'd forced fast-food chains to clean up some of the practices they used and remove the chemical obesatons, as she called them, that hooked people on eating more and more unhealthy food.
"Cut the chemicals and change your health destiny" was Priya Karsan's rallying cry, and Cece had taken the advice to heart. Cece, who'd once been Cecil and had always had an abundance of courage in embracing change, looked like a million dollars. From the tips of her multi-toned hair, her coral lipstick, and the plum eye shadow that emphasized her azure eyes to her lovely, high-arched feet — she was a beautiful woman.
"You look like someone dumped you in your clothes," Cece said. "Rough night?"
I hadn't slept well, but it wasn't up for discussion. "I'm perfectly fine. I'm not addicted to blow-dryers and curling irons and mascara wands and other instruments of female torture. Maybe you should help the environment and give up those things."
She ignored the barb. "A plain old clothes iron might be a wardrobe asset."
I rolled my eyes. "If you're going to pick on me all day, I'm going back to Dahlia House."
"Okay, okay." She pulled up at The Club, Sunflower County's most prestigious venue, and parked. "The first session is detox. You're going to love it."
I seriously doubted that, but I'd agreed to participate and there was no point in being a churl. "I can't wait. My feet are itching to be cleansed. In fact, it could be ringworm. Can detox cure that?"
"Sarah Booth —"
The door of The Club flew open. Jasper Pew, the manager, rushed into the parking lot. "Call 911," he screamed. "There's been a terrible accident. Someone get an ambulance."
"This is not an auspicious start," Cece said under her breath as she dialed the emergency number.
We hurried inside. The waitstaff and guests were in a terrible panic. No one knew who had been injured or what was going on. The lack of information hadn't kept spa day participants from stampeding like a herd of bejeweled bovines. They charged about the dining hall, panicked without even knowing why.
Dorinda Beauchamp was doing her best to calm the melee, but no one could hear her over the roar of frantic voices.
Taking the stage, Cece used her commando voice to quiet everyone and get them re-seated.
"Thank goodness you're here." Dorinda almost fell into Cece's arms. "Something terrible has happened. There's someone dead in the kitchen!"
"Who?" Cece and I asked in unison.
"I don't know, but it must be someone important. Jasper Pew told me to keep everyone right here, but look at them. They couldn't follow an order if Moses hit them over the head with the Ten Commandments."
Dorinda wasn't far off the mark. The audience was growing more and more aggressive in their demands to know what had happened. "Ladies, I'll be back." I stepped into the hallway and followed a crying waitress to the kitchen. The only way to get some answers was to find out what had occurred.
"What happened?" I asked the young woman when I had her cornered.
"They found her in the cooler. She's dead. It was ... awful!" She was ready to break into wails.
I held up a finger. "Shush!" Amazingly, my command worked. "Who was killed?"
"That woman. The one who made the chemical people so mad. Priya Karsan, the Food Guru!"
I hadn't expected that answer. If I was going to get a look at the crime scene before anyone tampered with it, now was the moment. I sidestepped a clutch of chefs who were powwowing beside the big stoves and pulled open the commercial-sized cooler's steel door. A blast of frigid air hit me. The scent of something a little sweet, but also rotten, tickled my gag reflex.
What appeared to be a human body hung upside-down from a meat hook in the center of the cooler. It was impossible to determine who the dead person was, because the body was encased in a hard white substance that reminded me of the plaster casts used in setting broken bones. The only identifiable body parts were the feminine feet, tied together, and the glossy black hair that swept the floor. The once-beautiful Priya Karsan spun slowly in a draft. I only knew it was Karsan because someone had hung a sign on the corpse identifying her: "Karsan lies, so Karsan dies."
"What the hell is going on?" Much as I wanted to run, I willed myself to snap a few photos with my cell phone. Priya Karsan's death warned me yet again of the dangers of speaking out, especially against the wealthy and powerful. The gruesome nature of her death was a warning to all who might choose to follow in her footsteps.
"Exactly what I intend to find out." Doc Sawyer, the retired general practitioner who now served as Zinnia's emergency room doc and the county coroner, pushed through the door. He was suited up in hazmat garb like an escapee from a sci-fi movie. "Poor thing," he said. "She never had a chance. I can't be one hundred percent certain, but I'd guess she's been sprayed with a chemical. Did you touch her, Sarah Booth?"
"No. How did you know to come here?"
"One of the chefs called Coleman. He's at the north end of the county with a double homicide, so he called me. We'll have to evaluate The Club and check all the staff for contaminants. I've already shut down the food service. If this is a chemical toxin, it could have seeped out and gotten everywhere in the kitchen. I've tasked Cece with getting all of the non-staff out of the building."
"What a gruesome death." I could only imagine what poor Priya Karsan had endured.
"I'll know exactly how gruesome once I conduct the autopsy. Now you'd better skedaddle, take a long shower, and come by the hospital later for me to check you over."
"Sure thing." I didn't wait to be told again. Doc was no one to mess with when he was working on a murder case. He would pop my butt in quarantine without a second thought.
"Sarah Booth, if you don't show up for the blood work, I will have Coleman arrest you." He grinned. "I think he'd enjoy that. A lot."
I hurried back to the dining hall. Cece had successfully herded Sunflower County's affluent from the building and into the parking lot. Promising refunds, she sent the would-be cleansed down the road before they were fully aware of what had happened in the club.
When the parking lot was empty, she cornered me. "What happened?"
"Priya Karsan is dead," I said. "She was coated in a chemical and hung in the kitchen's cooler. She looked like a victim of a spider. I hope she wasn't alive when she was cocooned."
"Tell me you got a photo."
I held up my cell phone. "But of course." Cece never failed to have my back when I was on a case. The least I could do was snap pictures when I had access and she didn't. "And I took photos of the kitchen and the roomful of angry spa day participants, too."
"Where's Tinkie?" Cece asked.
"A good question." It seemed my partner had skunked out on the whole spa/cleanse day. Tinkie was all about glamour, but cleansing had a distinct ring of unpleasantness to it, and I'd wondered how Cece twisted her arm into attending.
I dialed her number and she answered on the first ring.
"Where y'at?" I asked, trying for the New Orleans drawl that had created the sub-culture of yats.
"I got held up on the road. There's been a terrible accident," Tinkie said. "A crop duster went down in Cyrus Angler's pumpkin fields. It's a huge mess. I've been trying to call you for forty minutes."
"Was the pilot killed?" Plane crashes happened too frequently. Pilots spraying fields with chemicals would sometimes come in too low and tangle in telephone lines or, at times, the pilot simply miscalculated the angle.
"That's the strange thing. The plane didn't have a pilot. I'm blocked on the road but I can't leave the car. I found out as much as I could."
Strange and disturbing. Cotton and soybeans were often treated aerially, but not food crops. The former cotton and soybean fields lay fallow now, their crops harvested and the soil turned. "What was the plane spraying?"
"I'm not certain, but one of the rescue team told me it was an herbicide made by Gyndrex," Tinkie said. "There's an empty tank aboard. Keep in mind, Cyrus Angler was at the forefront of people opposing Gyndrex chemicals on Mississippi land. He filed a lawsuit against the chemical company that's due to be heard Thursday in Memphis."
Gyndrex was a company touting the benefits of GMO food crops. The GMO versions were not affected by the heavy herbicides Gyndrex manufactured — chemicals that killed non-GMO crops.
Excerpted from Guru Bones by Carolyn Haines. Copyright © 2017 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.
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Sticks and Bones Excerpt,
About the Author,
Also by Carolyn Haines,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Carolyn Haines does it again. I only wished Guru Bones was longer.