"Miss Dimple Disappears" by Mignon F. Ballard
Minotaur, 262 pp., $24.99
Reviewed by David Marshall James
South Carolina (though native Georgia) aurthor Mignon F. Ballard may have wrapped up her Augusta Goodnight mystery series featuring the titular guardian angel, but she's back for a bow with a brand-new series that all her readers-- and undoubtedly some new ones-- should find equally, if even more, to their tastes.
Ballard sets the clock back to autumn 1942, with Thanksgiving fast approaching in the fictitious Georgia burg of Elderberry, somewhere between Milledgeville and Augusta.
All eligible townsmen have left for the war, or are just about to do so, as is third-grade teacher's, Charlie Carr's, beau Hugh Brumlow.
Meanwhile, Charlie's younger sister, Delia, is expecting her first child by her soldier husband out in Texas, while the two sisters' only brother, Fain, is serving under Generals Eisenhower and Montgomery in North Africa.
Jo Carr, widowed mother of the brood, works several days a week (as does her sister, Lou) at a munitions plant in Milledgeville, filling in her spare hours as society editor for the town's weekly newspaper.
Ballard also focuses on the faculty at the town's grammar school, including Charlie's best friend and college roommate, Annie Gardner, who resides at a boardinghouse where the principal occupants are other teachers, including Miss Dimple Kilpatrick, stalwart first-grade instructor going back forty years.
Because of her lengthy history in Elderberry, when Miss Dimple takes a powder before the crack of dawn one morning, the entire town is fit to be tied.
Willie Elrod, a student in Charlie's class, swears that Miss Dimple was abducted by spies, right outside his house. Willie, however, has earned a reputation for his active imagination. Nevertheless, it's soon abundantly clear that Miss Dimple indeed has been kidnapped.
Ballard dispenses the feelings and flavors of Southern small-town, wartime living like the bounty from a victory garden, managing a large cast (including visiting soldiers, some of whom become love interests for the single teachers) and a satisfying mystery with ease.
Her nostalgia is as refreshing as a drugstore fountain Coca-Cola over crushed ice. Readers who have relished Susan Wittig Albert's recent "Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree" should delight in Ballard's new series as well.
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