Game of Bones by Carolyn Haines

Game of Bones is the 20th book in the Sarah Booth Delaney mystery series. It was officially released on May 14, 2019.

Digging the scene…

Someone’s got dirt and blood under their nails. That’s for sure! And Sarah Booth is tasked to find out who done it when she’s hired by an archeologist, Frank Hafner, to prove he didn’t kill his nemesis during a controversial Native American mound dig.

The murder victim is Sandra Wells, also a professor, who was battling with Frank in front of the cameras as they filmed for a reality TV show.

Professor Frank Hafner, we are judging you…

Remember that sleazy professor you had in college who was single and always free to mingle? And not just with his fellow professors. You know the guy who seemed to prefer to flirt with the students that were not yet working on doctoral dissertations? Well Frank is that guy.

We soon discover that the world of academia is as full of bedfellows as it is fellowship students. He isn’t dense and knows that everyone in town, as well as those watching the excavation unfold on TV, are aware that he had more than a little pick axe to grind with Sandra Wells.

Sandra Wells… dead woman possibly walking

Sandra is not a woman who was fun at parties. Well maybe she had fun at parties but probably only after sleeping with most of the men there. Held in low regard but highly esteemed for her money she doesn’t care about the sacred mound.

Sandra is the type of professor who you knew would rather be anywhere but in an actual classroom.

The harsh reality is that her students didn’t like her. Neither did her fellow professors. She ends up dead in a way that robbed her of any beauty, the one thing she had going for herself, she once may have had.

Native American mounds… stepping on the wrong turf

One of the things I liked about this book was having a chance to learn a bit about the existence of burial mounds. It was a good history lesson and one that is rarely discussed. The author didn’t shy away from the harsh reality that some disenfranchised groups are powerless in protecting their heritage from those who are known to plunder and have the money and economic backing to legally do whatever they please.

Peter Deerstalker… the Legal Eagle who is ready to shut it all down

Peter is a member of the Tunica Native American tribe. As an attorney he is well used to people trying to exploit his people. That in itself gives him a reason to be a suspect in Sandra’s murder. He has been in close contact with her (really, which man in this book hasn’t?) and a strong motive to harm her.

College students… always thinking they know it all

It seems everyone has an ulterior motive for being on the dig site. Especially the students. Sure these kids want to get a good grade but for some of them they are looking for much more.

The students and young people were milling about and on the outskirts of many events in the novel. Some were sleeping with professors. Some were literally casting spells.

Kawania… you can take the girl out of the coven but you can’t take New Orleans out of the girl

Hailing from New Orleans she is eager to name drop Marie Laveau as part of her family lineage. A student of Sandra’s she plays up her familial history and her Native American bloodline. As well as person who won’t hesitate to put a spell on you. She adds a bit of American Horror Story: Coven to the air. Like Peter Deerstalker she is a member the Tunica tribe.

Delane Goggans…

She’s got it bad, she’s hot for teacher. Okay, I will try not to reference bad songs from the 80s again but it needed to be said and no lies were told.

Delane is clearly in love with Frank Hafner and it is suspected that she will do almost anything to protect him from getting sent to the state penitentiary.

Case closed…

This book exceeded my expectations in many ways. Sarah Booth has grown up and is able to show a sensitivity which I did not anticipate seeing. I loved revisiting the effervescent Jitty, the ghost, and could have used a lot more of her quips and barbs. This time she presented herself in many invocations of Native American women which offered food for thought along with a dose of history.

There were some supernatural elements and rumors throughout this book. But I suppose that is to be expected when we are dealing with Sarah Booth who has her own personal ghost. Whether some of the supernatural elements were based on superstition or stereotyping is a question I will turn over in my brain in time to come.

I liked the college students being introduced and seeing them run around Zinnia. It was nice to see them as focal points within the story. They really made for good characters and I was constantly wondering how much they were involved with the murder. The topic itself, of excavation of Native American burial places and areas of importance, was an excellent choice for a cozy mystery.

The author did a good job of presenting the big business behind digging up bones. As well as what it means to the disenfranchised people who are helpless in watching their ancestors and their way of life be examined without their permission. Reality TV being incorporated was very cool and I could imagine the characters and persons of interest playing up for the cameras.

There weren’t many things endearing about the murder victim and I enjoyed the candor the suspects used in talking about her deep flaws and true intentions. It was fun to discover all of the various secret motivations behind those who worked on the excavation site. A couple of the surprises made my jaw drop; I simply did not see them coming.

The mystery itself was one that kept me guessing. I had no idea that things would unfold the way they did and basically any theory I would have been able to develop would have not have even come close to the truth. I call that impressive. There were not a ton of subplots in this book- it was pretty straight forward and things were wrapped up nicely in the end. The action scenes were good and the multiple discoveries that mattered the most occurred in the final pages.

Thank you to Net Galley and to the publishers of this book for providing me with an Advanced Reader Copy of Game of Bones in exchange for my honest review.

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