by Carolyn Haines
Series: Sarah Booth Delaney #23
Publication Date: May 18, 2021
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Whew – I had concerns after the last book, Garland of Bones, was such a poor entry to what is normally a reliable series.
This one starts right off with a bang – a rather graphic display of domestic violence at the grand opening of Zinnia’s new public park, during a speech by a professor passionate about women’s rights. The next day, the abuser is found dead, and the police find two other murders with the exact same MO in two other cities, and the professor is a suspect in all of them.
The fight-the-patriarchy rhetoric was strong, and at times, way too thickly laid on. Given Sarah Booth and Tinkie’s apathy for their client, the professor, I think it was done on purpose with the idea of illustrating that too much of anything – good or bad – can have disastrous consequences. This made the rhetoric, which was mostly in the first half of the book, at least useful to the plot. It still detracted from my enjoyment overall though.
What I did appreciate an awful lot, along with the faster pace and the lighter tone, was that the author also took the time to point out that the characters series readers know and love already have quietly, and in their own unique way, ‘fought the patriarchy’ and carved out their own independence and power. Balance.
Sarah’s resident haint, Jitty, also played a far less annoying part that usual; Sarah Booth has finally, after 22 books, stopped being taken in like an idiot, by her frequent appearances as historical figures. This time around, the figures she appears as are all powerful women throughout American history, who fought the constraints of their times to achieve agency over their own lives. And all of them outlaws. One of the messages being, that before our current generations, the only way women had their own agency was to be outlaws, in one way or another. These interludes were interesting and I found myself far less impatient with them than I’ve been in the past. They felt less silly and more relevant.
It doesn’t take a genius to know that for the last few years the writing has been on the wall for American women, as the feeble, power-hungry men we helped elect have been systematically making noise about taking away a woman’s agency, but the timing of this plot feels especially prescient, as the publication of this book came almost at the exact same time as events in Texas unfolded. Because behind the scenes of this story is a new, secret, well-funded, political movement unfolding across the US, with the goal of unwinding the rights of women back to pre 1900’s, where women couldn’t work any meaningful jobs, or have control of their finances, never mind their bodies, and their husbands were legally free to ‘correct’ their behaviour as they saw fit. That bit of the story doesn’t end with a tied-up bow and a justice-wins-the-day at the end, which is fitting. The pendulum of humanity swings wide, but slow.
I read this book for Halloween Bingo 2021’s Dem Bones square. Every book in the series has “Bones” in the title, and a skeleton, or part of one, on the cover.