Celestine Sibley (1914–1999) worked as a journalist with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for more than 50 years, covering the James Earl Ray trial, among her many assignments. She penned more than 10,000 columns, as well as many popular essays on southern culture.
She had a bit of a detour in the early 1950s, working as a Hollywood correspondent and interviewing celebrities like Clark Gable, Walt Disney, and Jane Russell. It was at this point she turned her hand to writing pulp stories, moonlighting as a True Confession and True Detective reporter and selling stories with faux-shocking headlines like "I Wanted to Die" and "I Was a Junkie."
Perhaps motivated by her pulp-experiences, she decided to switch to writing books. Those efforts resulted in the publication of The Malignant Heart (1958), the first book in her mystery series featuring newly-widowed Atlanta newspaper reporter-columnist Kate Mulcay. However, she didn't write her second Kate Mulcay novel, Ah Sweet Mystery, until 1991, some 33 years later, then followed up with four more before her death.
Bill Kovach, a former editor of The Journal-Constitution, referred to her newspaper writing as "a country-girl-come-to-the-city kind of column" and that Sibley "was the last voice of the white-glove, tea-and-apple-blossom set that had not a sharp edge on it.'' I think that aptly sums up the style of writing in Ah Sweet Mystery.
The novel begins with Mulcay living by herself in a rural log cabin with some reminiscing on life with her husband Benjy, a member of the Atlanta police force who died from cancer. One of the friends Mulcay has made in the area is the elderly Miss Willie, devoted stepmother to the adult Garney Wilcox. Wilcox is a land developer hated by just about everyone who is pushing his stepmother into a nursing home, egged on by his equally-unpleasant wife Voncile.
When Garney is found poisoned, electrocuted and bludgeoned, Miss Willie confesses to the murder, but Mulcay doesn't buy it for a minute. With the help of Atlanta PD Sergeant Mellie Alvarez and some Nelson Eddy-Jeanette MacDonald songs, the feisty Mulcay sets out to exonerate Miss Willie and finds that the traditional southern culture in Fulton County hides dark secrets of incest, rape and drug-running.
If you're looking for more sleuthing and procedural elements, this novel isn't for you. It's more of a social commentary with detailed painting of the place and the characters who populate it. The mystery takes a back seat, the story ends somewhat abruptly, and the dialect gets laid on perhaps a bit thick at times. However, if you can get past all of that, you will enjoy Sibley's leisurely, folksy style.