ABOUT THE SOUTHERN SISTERS
In the past I have done TT’s about fictional "good guys" Kay Scarpetta and Kinsey Milhone. This week I am spotlighting The Southern Sisters, created by Anne George. These mysteries always include murder, but Ms. George's stories are never grisly like Patricia Cornwell’s. They are specific to a time and place, but it’s contemporary and real, the American South, not Lillian Jackson Braun’s fictional Moose County (of “The Cat Who …” series).
Best of all, Anne George treats her main characters with respect, not condescension. It's not often that you encounter fully-realized, multi-dimensional, active and interesting women over 60 in mysteries. There are only 8 books in the series, since Ms. George passed away in 2001 at age 73. I miss the cozy and funny characters she created. I hope this overview will whet your appetite for her affectionate, sweet and very smart work.
1) The protagonists of these books are a mismatched pair of 60-something sisters who live in Birmingham, AL. The books are rich with local color and age/region appropriate language. For example, to these ladies, no one “dies,” they “pass.” People aren’t “vulgar,” they are “common as pig’s tracks,” and Birmingham’s Vulcan statue is almost another character.
2) Mary Alice is the elder. She is fashion-forward and flamboyant – and 6 ft. tall and 200+ lbs. She is wealthy because she has married well and often. She’s not as greedy as that makes her sound, just very impulsive when it comes to men. Within the family, she is known as “Sister,” or to her nieces and nephews as “Aunt Sister.”
3) Patricia Ann is the younger. Barely 5’ tall, still married to her first and only husband, Fred, and newly retired from her job of many years at the local high school. She still substitute teaches and cannot resist correcting Sister's grammar. Fred still runs his own business. She’s content to spend her evenings with Fred, eating on TV tables while watching Jeopardy! and the Biography channel. Patricia Ann’s name within the family is “Mouse.”
4) Patricia Ann is kept company by a dog who enjoys leisurely walks and sleeping in an igloo in the backyard. Mary Alice, on the other hand, has an enormous and spoiled cat named Bubba who sleeps on a heating pad. I cannot remember an instance in any of the 8 books where Bubba moved, but I do recall at least one time when Mouse suggested Bubba may have passed on.
5) The Sisters are one another’s best friend, but that doesn’t mean they always get along. Their disparate personalities just naturally lead to friction. When they do squabble, it usually denigrates into a rehash of an incident with a Shirley Temple doll when they were very little girls in the 1930s. But they pull together admirably when facing danger.
6) Murder on a Girl’s Night Out is the first book. Mary Alice decides to both have fun and diversify her investments by buying a country western bar, but before the sale goes through, the owner is murdered and the Southern Sisters begin investigating their first case.
7) Murder on a Bad Hair Day is second in the series. The Southern Sisters attend a reception for local artists, but the evening ends with sad death of the gallery owner – presumably of a heart attack. But things are not as they seem, since many of the artists had murderous motives.
8) Murder Runs in the Family is third. The girls are considering looking into their family tree and consequently go out to lunch with a genealogist familiar with Alabama families. During the meal, the genealogist is called away by a local judge. Later that day she committed suicide by diving from a courthouse window. Considering how nosy – and noisy – this genealogist was, The Southern Sisters suspect someone might have silenced her to keep some important family’s secrets just that – secret.
9) Murder Makes Waves is #4. The girls hit the road and get away to the beach. Unfortunately relaxing time on the shore is interrupted when a body washes up almost in front of them. Away from Birmingham, Mouse and Aunt Sister are not exactly welcomed by local law enforcement as they try to “follow the money” and get to the bottom of a real estate deal that went murderously wrong.
10) Murder Gets a Life is fifth. Aunt Sister is not at all happy that her beloved son married some ol’ gal named Sunshine Dabbs. Still, the Southern Sisters have good manners and it’s only right to pay a call on the Dabbs family at a trailer park off the beaten track. Somehow Sunshine’s “Meemaw” finds herself embroiled in a murder and the Sisters have to help the in-laws.
11) Murder Shoots the Bull is #6. The title refers to the bullish stock market, and the Sisters join an investment club. They get together with a number of Birmingham ladies, pool their money and (hopefully) make the right choices. Things go bad when their friend and co-investor Mitzi suspects that her husband Arthur is having an affair, and finds himself suspected of arson and the victim of a gunshot in a very embarrassing spot.
12) Murder Carries a Torch is the penultimate book. It revolves around family – the girls travel to Warsaw to visit Mouse’s newly-married and relocated daughter, Haley. Upon their return, Aunt Sister announces that she wants to marry again herself, if only she had a prospective groom. Then their Cousin Luke (“Pukey Lukey”) shows up to tell them his wife of 40 years has run off with a housepainter and he needs their help to bring her back. Investigating the housepainter’s life and his rural church, they find more deadly goings-on than just wife-stealing.
13) Murder Boogies with Elvis is the eighth and last in the series. I realize that Mrs. George didn’t plan this to be the final installment, but I’m grateful that this book ends with all the characters I had come to love settled and happy. But before we can get to that happy ending … While sitting in the front row of Birmingham charity gala and enjoying the finale – a line of high-kicking, dancing Elvises – the Sisters and the whole town are shocked when one of the impersonators drops dead from a knife wound to the back. What’s worse is that a bloody switchblade somehow ended up in Mouse’s purse.
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