All's Unquiet on the Home Front


"Miss Dimple Rallies to the Cause" by Mignon F. Ballard
Reviewed by David Marshall James

Elderberry, Georgia, is prepping for a big parade and a pageant to promote the sale of war bonds (this being 1943, after all), when a grisly discovery that has nothing to do with the Axis powers turns more than a few Elderberrians' lives into turmoil.

In this second "Miss Dimple" mystery novel by South Carolina author Mignon F. Ballard, not everyone is overwhelmed by a cold-case murder and its resulting blackmail and skullduggery.

For instance, Charlie Carr's and Annie Gardner's romances with their soldier-in-training amours have them-- ah-- wringing their fingers, with brief encounters stolen when the guys can manage passes from their respective out-of-town camps.

Although Miss Dimple Kilpatrick-- formidable longtime first-grade instructor who has taught generations of Elderberrians-- is the title character, fellow (much younger) teachers Charlie and Annie share as much of the spotlight, along with Charlie's mother, Jo, and Jo's other daughter, Delia, who has already wed and now has a toddler, while her husband is not surprisingly at war.

Charlie's and Delia's brother is also overseas, and Mother Jo and Aunt Lou work three days a week at the ordnance plant in Milledgeville, Ga.

Fictitious Elderberry is set somewhere in central Georgia, east of Macon and south of Atlanta.

A prominent locale in the story proves to be Phoebe Chadwick's boardinghouse, where Annie and Miss Dimple take room and board. Dinner time-- with cook Odessa's delicious make-do's around rationed sugar, meat, and butter-- finds even more teachers gathered around the dining-room table, as the elementary school is just one block away.

The widowed Mrs. Chadwick plays a good-sized part in the plot, with a burdensome secret of her own dating back to another war.

Elderberry may be a small town, but this is a well-populated novel. Still and all, author Ballard remains completely in control of her character roster, which numbers into the multiple dozens.

Ballard-- also author of the highly palatable Augusta Goodnight mystery series-- knows her way around a small Southern town, having been raised in one.

Furthermore, she was attending elementary school during World War II, so her Miss Dimple novels carry a first-hand authenticity lacking in less-experienced writers' works.

Not to play favorites (Miss Dimple never would, although she secretly has a favorite pupil), but this second novel in the series is even better than the first.