The Southern Sisters Mysteries feature the adventures of two sisters in their sixties: Mary Alice Crane and Patricia Anne Hollowell. They live in Birmingham, Alabama and are normal people except for their tendency to stumble into murders, which they then have a hand in solving. Usually they get involved because of some personal connection to a victim, however tenuous, and Patricia Anne's desire to help friends, family, and acquaintances in need. (The connection can sometimes be very tenuous; in Murder on a Bad Hair Day
, the victim who gets them involved is a student Patricia Anne taught more than a decade prior to the events of the book.) The books are narrated by Patricia Anne, and feature the events of the murders surrounded by the more incidental details of daily life as a retired schoolteacher in Birmingham.
Other characters include Patricia Anne's husband Fred and daughter Haley, Mary Alice's daughter Debbie, local saleswoman Bonnie Blue Butler, and policewoman Bo Peep Mitchell.
The books were written by Anne George, and are as follows:Murder on a Girls' Night Out
(1996)Murder on a Bad Hair Day
(1996)Murder Runs in the Family
(1997)Murder Makes Waves
(1997)Murder Gets a Life
(1998)Murder Shoots the Bull
(1999)Murder Carries a Torch
(2000)Murder Boogies with Elvis
The Southern Sisters Mysteries contain examples of:
- Affectionate Nickname: Mary Alice calls Patricia Anne "Mouse." Patricia Anne refers to Mary Alice as "Sister." Haley appears to have picked that one up from her mother, since she calls Mary Alice "Aunt Sister."
- Always on Duty: Bo Mitchell. Except for the first book, every time they get into trouble within city limits she's the one who comes out to check. Lampshaded in Murder on a Bad Hair Day, when Fred calls the police about a prowler, Bo shows up, and Patricia Anne's first words to her are "Do you work all the time?" Outside city limits, they always get Sheriff Reuse, who holds them personally responsible for all the wacky situations they get into.
- Altar the Speed: Haley gets a variant— they were already planning on getting married eventually, but then Philip gets an offer to teach a semester of med school in Warsaw and they decide to get married right away, resulting in Haley telling Patricia Anne "By the way, Philip and I are getting married Saturday." Mary Alice's immediate reaction is to wonder if it's a Shotgun Wedding. It's not.
- Brick Joke: the Foxglove restaurant. Mary Alice gets a notion in her head that they should all have Christmas dinner at the Foxglove restaurant, Patricia Anne says no one would name a restaurant Foxglove, and then Haley comes over, everyone gets distracted by discussing the mystery, and you think that's the end of it. Until, at the end of the chapter, the phone rings and Mary Alice says only "It's Fox Glen."
- Cold Cash: Patricia Anne keeps her silver flatware not just in the freezer, but in the pull-out drawer under the peaches and blueberries, in a heavy freezer paper wrapping marked "shrimp". This does not make Fred think it's any more reasonable a place to keep it.
- Embarrassing Nickname: Pukey Lukey, their cousin.
- The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Mary Alice is the pretty, wealthy one who always drags Patricia Anne into things. Patricia Anne is the quiet one who was a schoolteacher before she retired. They both snark at each other constantly.
- Happily Married: Patricia Anne and Fred, later Haley and Phillip, and Debbie and Henry
- Happy Place: For Patricia Anne, the Happy Place is apparently a housewares store. She copes with stress by mentally wandering whichever one is having a sale this week, shopping for linens, throw pillows, and towels.
- How We Got Here: Murder Shoots the Bull opens on the sisters in the police station, under arrest because Mary Alice hit a bank president with an umbrella. Patricia Anne observes that to explain how they got into this predicament, she'd have to back up a few weeks, and proceeds to tell us all about this book's murder, ending up back at the police station where lawyer Debbie has arrived to spring them. This whole sequence— including the fact that Mary Alice hit the bank president in the first place— is only tangentially related to the main plot.
- Hypocrite: Mary Alice. Frequently. The standout example is her criticizing Haley for visiting dead husband Tom immediately before marrying New Husband Philip so that Tom won't feel left out. A couple of books later, we find out that Mary Alice brings each of her three dead husbands flowers on each one's birthday every year, so that none of them will feel left out.
- Mystery Magnet: The sisters. Bo repeatedly tells them that they're only people she knows who keep falling over dead bodies.
- Nosy Neighbor: Discussed and averted each time emergency vehicles end up parked in the driveway and the neighbors come out to stare. Patricia Anne always observes that the neighbors aren't doing it to be nosy, but out of genuine concern.
- Never Live It Down: Patricia Anne lost Mary Alice's Shirley Temple doll when they were kids. Mary Alice still has not forgotten it, and it comes up a few times every book. Patricia Anne implies she's going to return the favor after Mary Alice crashes her car into a mailbox in Murder Carries a Torch.
- Overly Long Name: As a result of Mary Alice being thrice a widow, her full name is Mary Alice Tate Sullivan Nachman Crane.
- Parasol of Pain: In Murder Shoots the Bull, the sisters end up arrested because Mary Alice hit a bank president over the head with Patricia Anne's umbrella. Patricia Anne is more upset about the umbrella getting broken than about getting arrested.
- Post-Stress Overeating: Implied to be part of the reason for Mary Alice's weight.
- Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Bonnie Blue Butler, Bo Peep Mitchell, and Joanie Salk. All of them complain about it, too.
- Your Cheating Heart: Alan does this to Lisa offscreen in Murder Shoots the Bull, resulting in Lisa briefly staying with Fred and Patricia Anne. In Murder Carries a Torch, Virginia doing this to Luke is how the sisters get involved in the plot.