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    Review of HALLOWED BONES by Carolyn Haines (see her website)

    Delacorte/Random House, April 2004

    Occasional private investigators, Sarah Booth Delaney and Tinkie Richmond get a call from a nun asking them to help clear a young woman of the worst of accusations--murder of her own child. Doreen Mallory is too innocent, too spiritual, and too unconnected to any real sense of grief to be real, but somehow Sarah and Tinkie believe her protestations of innocence. What they don't believe is that the baby just died. The police have clear evidence of murder--drugs in the baby's formula. And the mother is the only candidate with motive (the baby suffers from birth defects and Doreen's career is a faith healer), opportunity, and means.

    It takes some doing to even get Doreen to name the baby's father candidates--a senator, a minister, and a business manager. All have alibis and none seriously believe that they were the father (Doreen had told each that someone else was the father) so they seem to be clear. But Sarah and Tinkie know that murder is generally connected to the family and they intend to pursue all the leads. In between, that is, showing up in the perfect gown at the New Orleans Black and Orange party and paying close attention to their ticking biological clocks. Because the death of a baby reminds both Tinkie (married to a man who doesn't want children) and Sarah (interested in two unavailable men) that neither is getting younger and that their time to have a baby will eventually run out.

    Author Carolyn Haines brings the Mississippi countryside to life and captures some of the vibrant energy of New Orleans. Sarah is an interesting character with the happy problem of two men in love with her. Unfortunately, one is married and the other is committed to living in Paris, France, a million miles from Mississippi where Sarah's family is buried and where her resident ghost hangs out. Haines handled transsexual issues (one of Sarah's best friends had been born a man) sympathetically.

    There were a few problems in the mystery itself. The insistence on DNA evidence of the true father would have made more sense if one of the potential fathers had any reason to believe that Dorren was lying about paternity. As it was, Sarah and Tinkie never bothered to inquire whether any of them might have guessed. The shabby police work isn't quite credible, even for a work of fiction, and the holes in at least one of the alibis were so obvious that surely Sarah should have followed up on it. For me, as well, Sarah's dilemma over which man to pick went on a bit. Still, although HALLOWED BONES is well written and enjoyable.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 5/27/04

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