Miss Dimple Picks a Peck of Trouble by Mignon F. Ballard is the fourth mystery featuring a first-grade teacher in small-town Georgia in 1944, who'll marshal other faculty members to find the killer of a missing teen girl (available February 4th, 2014).
The Depression and World War II stand out as two back-to-back periods of time that really grab my interest be it in history or fiction. I suppose growing up while listening to my elders speak about both the difficulties and the triumphs of survival during those tumultuous years left me with an unquenchable desire to read about how people endured all the troublesome complications of the time.
So, naturally, Mignon G. Ballard quickly captured my attention when she began writing the Miss Dimple Kilpatrick mysteries about a no-nonsense first grade school teacher, Miss Dimple, and her friends and neighbors in the small rural town of Elderberry, Georgia during World War II.
As Miss Dimple Picks a Peck of Trouble begins, Miss Dimple and two of her fellow teachers, Charlie Carr and Annie Gardner, are picking peaches. They’d pooled their sugar-ration coupons so that Miss Dimple’s landlady could make some peach preserves, and if the sugar lasts, perhaps there will be peach ice cream as well.
Miss Dimple thought she heard a scream. Charlie said she didn’t hear it and as for Annie:
“I didn’t hear a thing,” Annie Gardner said. The younger teacher didn’t want to say it, but in spite of her quiet demeanor, Miss Dimple Kilpatrick seemed to invite the opportunity to delve into a bit of detective work, usually at great risk of danger.
But as it turns out, a young woman has gone missing from the Peach Shed just down the road. Her name is Prentice Blair and she is best friends with Charlie’s sister, Delia. After looking around the immediate area, the ladies call the police, and the search begins in earnest. The news isn’t good. Prentice’s body is found, cold and lifeless, and soon most of the residents of Elderberry are squeezed into the small Presbyterian Church for her funeral. So many folks are crying quietly.
But Delia hadn’t cried, and it didn’t look like she was going to. What was the matter with her? Her best friend was dead. Murdered. Kind, beautiful Prentice, who had never hurt a living soul, was gone forever from her life, from all their lives. And she had yet to shed a tear.
The suspect pool is small. The police focus on Prentice’s very recent ex-boyfriend but there are similarities between this murder and several others that may be the work of a serial killer, one who covers his victims with rose petals just as Prentice’s body was found.
And then there’s Hattie McGee, known to the town as Mad Hattie or Batty Hattie, a woman who believes she is Scarlett O’Hara. It is clear that Hattie knows something about the murder but with all her fantasies and confusion, it’s hard to decipher what she actually saw. Whatever she knows, she is not telling in a way that anyone can understand. No matter how hard Dimple presses, Mattie has a stock response.
“Why, the Nazis, of course, and you’d better be afraid, too. They took her, you know, and that’s when they dropped it right back there behind that shed.”
Drop what, you ask? Well that is exactly Miss Dimple’s question. Hattie’s only answer is “gold.” Before anyone can figure out a way to persuade Hattie to tell them plainly what she found and where she hid it, Hattie is brutally murdered.
And while all this goes on, Elderberry, Georgia, like the rest of America in that summer of 1944, frets about loved ones in the Armed Services, shares the produce of victory gardens and gets on with day-to-day life, confident that justice will win the day whether it is resolution of two murders in their own tiny town, or of a war that circles the globe. If you haven’t read any Miss Dimple novels, today is a great time to start.
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Twice short-listed for Best American Mystery Stories, Terrie Farley Moran’s cozy mystery, Well Read, Then Dead will be released by Berkley Prime Crime in August, 2014. She blogs amid the grand banter of the Women of Mystery.