cover image A Bone to Pick

A Bone to Pick

Charlaine Harris. Walker & Company, $18.95 (168pp) ISBN 978-0-8027-1245-5

Aurora Teagarden, who made a strong series debut (in Real Murders ) as a southern librarian turned amateur sleuth, suddenly finds herself very rich when elderly spinster Jane Engle dies and leaves her a fortune. When Aurora goes to take possession of Miss Engle's home, she finds the place ransacked. Poking around, she turns up a ghoulish artifact the intruder missed: a bashed-in human skull hidden in a cleverly disguised window seat. Fearing that her mild benefactor was actually a vicious killer, Aurora is relieved to find a note the deceased left behind pointing her suspicions elsewhere. She delves into the lives of her new neighbors, masking her scrutiny with Southern charm, and discovers that over the years two men have disappeared from the neighborhood. Harris provides some genuinely funny scenes as Aurora breezily unravels the murderer's identity, but the plot is just too farfetched, even when supported by an appealing cast of Southern gothic characters. Harris, who struck the right note in Real Murders , here unfortunately goes beyond the humorous social satire that is her metier, striving for a wildly exaggerated parody of southern life. But with three solid novels behind her, this talented mystery writer will surely regain her focus the next time out. (Nov.)