Tell-Tale Bones by Carolyn Haines (EXCERPT)

Read an excerpt from the newest book in Carolyn Haines’ sassy Sarah Booth Delaney Mystery series! Tell-Tale Bones is the latest spooky installment, involving cold cases and a reputedly haunted grave. We were graciously given permission to let you take a look inside this 26th book in the series, with a passage from Chapter 2!

From Tell-Tale Bones by Carolyn Haines. Copyright © 2023 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Publishing Group.


Since Zinnia didn’t have a bookstore, my first stop was the library. I was tempted to call Tinkie to meet me there with Maylin, but I resisted the impulse. I’d tell her all about it later. It didn’t take me twenty minutes to find an anthology of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories and to open it to “The Tell-Tale Heart.” I’d remembered the visceral power of reading the story in high school and the chilling effect of the beating heart. The guilt—or insanity—of the narrator. How the heart, buried beneath the floorboards, made them tremble.

It was as though Tammy had shared the dream of a murderer with a long-dead writer.

Tammy was incapable of any unkindness, especially murder. But if my hunch was correct, then she’d dreamt a portion of Poe’s chilling short story. But why? Of all the people I knew, Tammy had no reason to carry guilt, and she certainly was sane. Why was she dreaming of the beating heart of a murder victim?

And why had she chosen to tell me about it?

When I stepped out of the library, steeped and marinating in the power of Poe, I called Cece. She’d been quite the reader in high school and she had an enviable library in her house now. For someone who wrote facts, she adored fiction. She liked to walk on the dark side, too.

“What do you know about Poe’s ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’?” I asked when she answered. In the background I could hear Ed Oakes, editor at the Zinnia Dispatch, issuing orders like a field commander. It was morning deadline and I wished I’d thought to consider that before I called. Still, Cece greeted me with a droll hello.

“The short story was a masterpiece of an unreliable narrator drawing the reader into the mind of a person who is insane. The heart itself symbolizes what the narrator can never have—humanity and compassion. What else do you want to know?”

“How’d you get to be so smart?” Cece had a wide breadth of knowledge that I truly did admire. She was a terrific journalist.

“Born lucky,” she said. “Books were my safe place. I could hide there from the disappointment my parents never tried to conceal from me or the contempt the other boys felt for me. Reading was always a haven and a place to learn more about who I was.”

“You never disappointed me or your friends.”

“Thanks, Sarah Booth. I know that. My friends made life tolerable. Only someone who has been on the outside can truly comprehend that gift of being accepted.”

“We don’t just accept you. We love you.” It was merely the truth. “I’m heading over to Tinkie’s. When your deadline is over maybe we can meet for lunch?”

“Sounds like a plan. Why’re you asking about Poe?”

“Tammy had a nightmare about a beating heart. Something reminded me of the story. I wasn’t a reader like you, but I loved Poe’s work.”

“Must have been a helluva dream to remind you of that short story. I can still hear the pounding of that heart when I think about it.”

“I’ll see if Tammy can meet us for lunch.”

“Any excuse for Millie’s cooking is a good excuse. Hey, I hear Scott Hampton has a serious girl.”

“So I’ve heard. I’m happy for him.” Scott was a great guy, but Coleman was the man for me.

“He wants to have a celebration at the Club very soon. Will you attend?”

“A pack of raving politicians couldn’t keep me away.”

Cece laughed. “Well put. I’ll see you at noon at Millie’s.”

In another five minutes I was knocking at Tinkie’s back door. When I opened it, she was cradling Maylin in her arms. I took the baby as soon as I was inside and held her high up in the air to make her giggle. Maylin was an extraordinary baby. She was bold and courageous and filled with joy.

“You are smitten,” Tinkie diagnosed me.

“I am.”

“What’s up?”

She took Maylin and fed her while I told her about Tammy, the dream, and the short story.

“All fascinating, but what we really need is a case,” Tinkie said. “We can sit around and analyze Tammy’s dreams for the next month, but we need an assignment.”

She was right about that. We’d worked through the Christmas holidays on an interesting case, but we’d been without work for more than two weeks now. It was time to be gainfully employed once again.

We packed up all the baby crapola—traveling with Maylin was almost like loading the Ringling Bros.—and headed to Millie’s Café. Millie was the best cook in the Delta, hands down, and she was one of our closest friends. She’d have something to say about the hideous heartbeat. Millie was also one of the hottest columnists in the county with the Sunday column she wrote with Cece for the Zinnia Dispatch called “The Truth Is Out There,” featuring everything from alien abductions to the ghost of Elvis. In fact, the beating heart of a murder victim was right up her alley.

Millie’s Café was packed to the gills with local businessmen and farmers, drawn there by the wonderful food and social interaction. Millie found a table in the back corner that would accommodate the wagonload of people and baby accoutrements. We’d just gotten our sweet iced teas when Cece arrived. She had news—it was all over her face. “I have some hot gossip about the legal shenanigans Tope Maxwell has been up to.”

Before Cece could begin, Tammy Odom joined us. She was smiling but the tinge of melancholy still clung to her. I had the honor of holding Maylin but offered her to Tammy to cheer her up—and it worked. The tension dropped from her shoulders, and she blew a kiss at me.

“I think your dream relates to an Edgar Allan Poe short story,” I told her. She didn’t look surprised. At all.

“I remember that story. They made a horror movie out of it way back in the ’60s. I remember that hideous heartbeat.” She nodded. “That must have been in the back of my mind. Thank you, Sarah Booth. You’ve put my thoughts to rest.”

I had a sudden cold feeling that being on guard might be better than at ease. I pointed to Cece. “Tell us your news about Tope.”

From Tell-Tale Bones by Carolyn Haines. Copyright © 2023 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Publishing Group.

Tell-Tale Bones by Carolyn Haines was published May 16 2023 by Minotaur Press and is available from all good booksellers, including

Permanent link to this article:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.