A small-town girl returning to her roots becomes a reluctant sleuth.
Romaine Wilder, who’s lost her job as a Chicago medical examiner and ended her affair with a married man, returns to East Texas to live with the aunt who raised her. Auntie Zanne is French Creole; the owner of a successful funeral home, she’s a small-town busybody whose plans for Romie don’t include a return to Chicago. They return to her childhood home at the funeral parlor to find Zanne’s dearest friend, Josephine Gail Cox, extremely upset and almost nonresponsive, standing in the pouring rain as Romie’s cousin, Sheriff Pogue Folsom, arrives to investigate a possible murder. Josephine may be depressed, but she knows which dead bodies belong in funeral homes and which ones don’t, and the one she found in the basement, cause of death unknown, ready to be cremated does not belong. With Pogue, who suspects Josephine of the killing, set to leave for training and the local medical examiner sick, Romie and Zanne take over the investigation. While she tries to keep Zanne’s worst impulses in check, Romie gets reacquainted with old friends and meets some new ones. She’s pressed into helping Zanne with a local festival and making crawfish pies for the band Zanne’s sponsoring. The identification of the dead man by his fingerprints gives the odd couple a sharper focus in their quest for clues. Uncovering the secrets everyone wants to remain hidden is just what Romie and Zanne need to do to solve the crime.
Vandiver’s debut, which launches a character-driven series, has plenty of local color and interesting tidbits on Creole history though not much of a mystery.