Writing under her pseudonym, T.J. MacGregor, Patricia Janeshutz MacGregor published Mistress of the Bones
, the tenth novel in her Quin St. James and Mike McCleary
series of detective thrillers, in 1995. Set in Tango Key, Florida, the novel follows the husband and wife team of detectives as they try to figure out who killed their bail bondsman friend. Suspects range from disgruntled girlfriends to greedy land developers, ruthless environmental activists, and the possible supernatural involvement of an ancient ghost with a score to settle.
Quin St. James and Mike McCreary have been married and working as private investigators for 10 years when they are called to investigate the death of one of their small number of dear friends. Lou Hernando, a longtime bail bondsman working in the swamps of a tiny island off Key West in Florida, has been found stabbed to death with a knife in his secluded cabin.
For local police, solving the murder seems like a clear-cut case: the knife belongs to Ross Blade, a shifty young teenager with a criminal record. Lou had recently befriended Ross to start teaching him the ins and outs of the bondsman business. Even more recently, Lou made Ross his heir—and now that Lou is dead, Ross has conveniently disappeared. When Quin and Mike show up, they connect with Marion O'Conner, a Tango Key cop who often ran into Lou while working. Together, the three begin searching for Ross.
However, Quin and Mike don’t really believe that Ross is responsible for Lou’s death. The more they investigate, the more suspects they find. Moreover, when they move into Lou’s house in order to have a home base of operations, they realize that the case might have a supernatural component as well.
In the house, they find Lou’s journal, which chronicles a series of failed relationships with women who turn out to harbor many hard feelings about the dead man—a group that includes Lou’s ex-wife.
They also see that in the past few months before his death, Lou was acting strangely. He had become obsessed with a woman who had lived in the house 300 years earlier, and whose ghost was said to still haunt the premises. An amateur painter, Lou created many sensual portraits of Lux, or “The Mistress of the Bones,” a Cuban slave who was the mistress of the house's original owner, a pirate who controlled the whole island. Conversations with psychics and tarot card readings let Quin and Mike know that Lux’s story has become a local legend: that her spirit cannot rest until she gets her marital rights, justice for her illegitimate son, and a clear title to the land that her lover should have left to her on his death.
Quin and Mike can’t really explain the evidence that the house is haunted, but they also don’t give a lot of credence to the idea that Lux is responsible for Lou’s death. Instead, they dig into his bail bonds business, finding evidence that he owed a lot of money. This makes them wonder whether they should be taking a closer look at the fact that Lou’s land lies right in the middle of a piece of the island that prominent developer David Vicente wants to take over. At the same time, Quin and Mike become suspicious of Doris Lynch, an ecologist and preservationist who is not above using ruthless methods to quash the ambitions of Vicente, her bitterest rival. Vicente could have had his goons finish Lou off in order to buy the land—or, alternatively, Lynch could have killed Lou in order to stop him from selling to Vicente.
Through some cryptic emails, Quin and Mike figure out that Ross has been in hiding because he has been conducting his own investigation into Lou’s murder. They connect online and then in person, and confirm their initial hunch that Ross had nothing to do with Lou’s death.
In the end, Quin and Mike realize that the real killer has been under their noses the whole time: Marion O’Connor, the cop that has been ostensibly helping them all along, was actually one of Lou’s spurned lovers. Jealous of the increasingly insane erotic obsession Lou had with Lux, Marion stabbed him with Ross’s knife to shift suspicion elsewhere.
In a climactic conclusion that involves the explosion of Lou’s house, venomous snakes, a speeding police helicopter, and a hitman named Roey, the good guys manage to almost exact justice on the guilty. However, in a violent confrontation, Mike is shot and killed. The novel ends with Quin scattering his ashes and remembering the beauty of their relationship.