Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Review: Smarty Bones by Carolyn Haines

Smarty Bones by Carolyn Haines
Series: Sarah Booth Delaney Mysteries #13
Genre: Mystery/Chick-Lit
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Professor Olive Twist has come to Zinnia, Mississippi, to study a mysterious grave wherein lies the Lady in Red, an anonymous but perfectly preserved and stunningly beautiful body. Since the discovery of the grave in 1969, Mississippi schoolchildren have been making up colorful stories about the Lady in Red’s identity and past, but no one has come any closer to learning the truth. Now, Olive claims she can not only identify the corpse, she can also prove the woman’s scandalous role in the nation’s history. Olive takes it a step too far, though, when she starts connecting elite Zinnia families with the same scandal.

Dander up, Zinnia’s society ladies know only one way to handle Olive: they call on the private investigative services of Sarah Booth Delaney. But the truth behind Olive’s research is clear as Mississippi mud, and when Sarah Booth discovers a present-day dead body, she knows there’s more than just family pride and Southern heritage at stake. If she can’t find the murderer, and fast, it might just be Sarah Booth’s life on the line next. 

Warning: Rant
Disclaimer: I didn't buy this book. Honestly, I never would have chosen this book for myself - with the chick-lit cover and the proud proclamation of it being 'Stephanie Plum meets The Ya-Ya Sisterhood' I would have stayed far away from it. But it was a gift. Because of that, I wanted to like it.

We started on shaky ground. The first five pages were told in the present tense and then it inexplicably shifted to past tense. I already had a headache.

Let's start off with the absolute worst thing in the whole book, shall we. Sarah Booth. Sarah Booth is smug. Sarah Booth is cutsie (She named her dog 'Sweetie Pie' and 80% of the time uses fake curses. Thing such as 'Nebuchadnezzar eating a Kit Kat'. And a lot of saint and biblical references. What does this even mean? The other 20% of the time she uses typical curses. For all of her cutsie-ness, she has the worst mouth of everyone in the book.). Sarah Booth is named Sarah Booth and is never called anything else because all good and proper southern ladies must go by their middle name too - forget the fact that her best friend is called Tinkie and her other best friend is Cece. Even her lover calls her Sarah Booth. (I can just hear the passionate exclamations now.) I hate this little naming trend - especially when she's the only one that even seems to have a middle name. It's made even worse in this instance by the fact that Booth is actually Sarah Booth's mother's maiden name. I'm sure after she get's married, her adoring public brainwashed masses friends will star calling her 'Sarah Booth Delaney' all the time.

If I have to read the name 'Sarah Booth' one more time I will scream. Henceforth I shall refer to her as Sarah in a minor act of rebellion.

Sarah is a smug, entitled, superior bitch! Everything she hates in other women is either what she is or is catty jealousy. She hates Olive Twist because she has bad fashion sense. Bad fashion sense such as a high collar button up shirt and a black pencil skirt. I'm sorry, I think she sounds nicely dressed. She hates Olive because she has big feet. How dare you? My feet are bigger than normal for a woman of my size. I have an aunt that has size ten feet and she has a difficult time finding shoes to fit. Olive's feet have to be 'at least size fifteen'. Then she makes a joke about Olive wearing boots in the heat and the fact that she'll develop athlete's foot and her toes will fall off. I'm sorry, did you just... She did. Honestly I've never heard a grown woman acting so petty before in my life. (That explains it: A couple cases ago I just bet being visited by the ghost of a former slave broke something in Sarah's mind and she regressed into a horny fifteen year old. Problem solved.) Oh, and don't forget the fact that if Olive would 'turn sideways, she'd disappear'. It's not her fault, Sarah, that you'd rather pig out on cake and pinch your fat in hopes it will go away.

Yes, I'll admit that Olive is a bigot. I don't deny that, but that's given much less screen time as a reason to hate her than all of Sarah's mindless, petty problems. Sarah is a reverse snob and hates Olive because Olive has book learnin. Humor's fine as long as Sarah is the one being funny. If anyone else cracks a joke, she's all business - and the joke's probably beneath her anyways.

The next problem I had was something that might have been remedied if I'd started with the first book of the series. I cannot picture anyone. Why? Because hardly anyone is described. By the end of the book, I knew the hair color of four people - two of whom were first introduced in this book and a third that probably was. The fourth was the main character. How about eye color? Are eyes even mentioned? Honestly, most conversations were talking heads. No, disembodied voices. Yeah, that's it.

Graf, the fiancé, is handsome - as you're reminded repeatedly. Okay. What color is his hair? Or is he bald? (Page 159: no, not bald. We find out later that he had 'dark chest hair' - so he's probably not too fair haired either.)

Tinkie? Cece? Oscar? Buford? Harold? Coleman? Millie?
No clue what they look like.

The most I can tell you about Sarah is that she has long chestnut hair. Of course, I could have guessed that from the quirky cover illustration. But then again, that's probably not Sarah because she's never described as wearing glasses (no one is, in fact) or a skirt. Ironed jeans, yes. A skirt, no.

Now, this is a mystery book, so, how was the mystery?

On the back cover it says 'Sarah Booth discovers a present-day dead body'. That statement is wrong.

Someone is killed and Sarah is called in because the prime suspect wants her to prove said suspect's innocence. When she arrives at the crime scene, the sheriff (who called her) is already there - along with a hearse. (? Do they actually do that in Mississippi? Where I'm from it'd be an ambulance, even if the person is DOA. A hearse is used, says an expert 'to carry a coffin from a church or funeral home to the cemetery'. So… We stuck the victim in a coffin and will now go an shove them into the nearest open grave? Out of sight, out of mind. We can't have dead bodies in our perfect town.) Sarah never even sees the dead body! Wouldn't want to upset her southern sensibilities.

I'm used to much faster paced mysteries: a murder in the first twenty pages. Besides, that leaves room for more deaths. Most of the first hundred pages of this book was…chick-lit light fluff fiction - and plenty of opportunities for the smug main character to remind you that her fiancé is a handsome Hollywood heartthrob. (Okay, I find out later that he's merely an up-and-comer.) And that they have great sex. (TMI. Ugh.)

Sarah is a private investigator, but she's the saddest one I've ever seen. She freely admits that her partner is the brains and charm of the partnership. Sarah's just the one who tackles the tomatoes-throwers. The whole sum of Sarah's investigation is a few phone calls, ignorance, bigotry, wild guessing, ignoring the obvious and stupidity.

Before the first murder even occurred, I pointed at a person and said 'culprit'. There were a few read herrings that had me questioning my assessment, and the fact that it was so obvious. (Spoiler: Hint: It's not someone Sarah likes.) I thought 'no. It wouldn't be that obvious.' I was wrong. Rather, I was right the first time and before the dénouement I had come back full circle to my original suspect.