Review: Miss Dimple and the Slightly Bewildered Angel by Mignon F. Ballard

In Miss Dimple and the Slightly Bewildered Angel by Mignon F. Ballard—the 5th in the Miss Dimple mysteriesguardian angel Augusta Goodnight, an earlier series character, suddenly finds herself assigned to Phoebe Chadwick's rooming house in the small Georgia town of Elderberry. (Available August 2, 2016).

…Bob Robert gripped his hands to keep them from shaking. He had seen dead people before, even helped lay some of them out, but this was different. He had never just come upon somebody like that. Crazy woman had no business in that steeple anyway!

“Bob Robert. Are you alright? You look like you've seen a ghost.” Phil Lewellyn, the local druggist, paused in the doorway and took him by the arm. “I think you'd better sit down.”

Mr. Phil! He would know what to do. Bob Robert wanted to hug the man. “The steeple — she's at the bottom of the steps in the steeple, and no use calling a doctor,” he said. “Don't know how long she's been there, but she's way past helping now.”

It's fall in the sleepy Georgian town of Elderberry, and everyone is gearing up for Halloween. But, amidst the grinning jack-o-lanterns and crepe-paper decorations lurks a bona fide murderer.

Elderberry is a picturesque and charming little town, and the specter of the ongoing war looms heavy over all—the year is 1944—so to say that nerves are already taut is an understatement. Many of Elderberry's young men have already been sacrificed to the Allied cause; but all of that death is a distant concept for those not already personally touched by it.

So when Dora Westbrook arrives in town, clearly frightened and escaping something, only to end up dead within twenty-four hours, the quiet town is understandably rattled.

Septuagenarian schoolteacher (and amateur sleuth) Miss Dimple Kilpatrick was one of the last to see the poor woman alive. She and her fellow teachers at Phoebe Chadwick's boardinghouse tried to help Dora before she fled into the night, only to turn up dead the next morning at the local Presbyterian church.

The plucky teachers are determined to get to the bottom of things—but in an unusual turn of events, Miss Dimple isn't as gung-ho as she usually is when presented with a real life mystery.

It seems that Dora hails from an area that holds bittersweet and long-buried memories for Miss Dimple, and she isn't eager to reopen the old wounds…

Enter bona fide angel Augusta Goodnight! Outwardly, she's come to Elderberry to cook for the boardinghouse ladies, since their resident cook Odessa is busy nursing an ill aunt. But, in truth, Augusta has been sent to do more than cook and mend hems—she's on a literal mission from God, and it appears Miss Dimple is to be the recipient of her divine aid.

“Augusta, our new boarder.” Dimple explained how the newcomer had come in answer to a notice Phoebe had posted in Cooper's store. “It was the strangest thing,” she added. “She just appeared at the door wearing a huge green cape and carrying a handbag I believe I could climb inside.” She sighed and shook her head. “Most unusual woman—seems a bit fey, as if her feet aren't firmly on the ground, but I'll have to admit, she makes the best waffles I've ever put in my mouth, and her fish stew? Virginia, it's absolutely heavenly!”

Mignon Ballard's cozy mysteries feel like a slice of Norman Rockwell's Americana. Elderberry and its surrounding environs are simple, wholesome places (when you look past the occasional murder or break-in, anyway).

This is a town where everybody knows your name, and probably your grandfather's, too; where the schoolhouse may not be a single room, but it's hardly much bigger; where gap-toothed and towheaded boys named Willie bike up and down streets lined with oaks and old men sit on the same park bench every day to gum peanuts and shoot the breeze.

Schoolteacher-turned-sleuth Miss Dimple is a Southern version of Miss Marple, though she's significantly sweeter than that often sharp-tongued fellow spinster. Dimple likes to think the best of people, but she's also no idiot. When her stomach tells her something's wrong, she listens to it; thankfully, by this point in her series, her friends and the local police know to listen to such feelings, too.

“I don't mean to alarm you, Virginia, but I believe there is someone just outside who might possibly be up to no good.”

“How do you know? Did you see somebody?”

“I just know, Virginia. You're going to have to believe me. Something is very wrong. I want you to telephone the police, and tell them to come quickly.” And with those words, she stepped briskly to the door and slid the bolt into place.

Virginia Balliew had depended on her friend in too many times of trouble to ignore her now, and so she did as she was told.

While Miss Dimple is a sound head on steady shoulders, Augusta Goodnight—the “slightly bewildered angel” sharing the title byline—is somewhat scatterbrained. She's constantly singing though she can't carry a tune, frequently mentions things no normal human would (like the time she met Queen Victoria, though Old Queen Vic has been dead for more than forty years), and has a habit of butchering colloquialisms.

“Don't keep us in suspenders,” she begs one of the ladies when she hesitates mid-story; later she mentions looking for a “thimble in a haystack,” to everyone's confusion. Augusta is something of the comic relief of the story, a job she shares with a pair of middle-aged sisters, Jo and Lou, who tend to get themselves into scrapes thanks to their enthusiasm for meddling and gossip.

Miss Dimple and the Slightly Bewildered Angel marks the fifth Miss Dimple mystery and the eighth book to feature Augusta Goodnight (and her first appearance in eight years). It's populated with quaint and colorful characters, seasoned with country wisdom and atmosphere, and is rife with historical details about American society during the war years.

The mystery itself takes a backseat for a large portion of the story; the more fore-grounded plot focuses on Miss Dimple's past pain and current sense of community. Several secondary characters get moments to shine, there's a fair sprinkling of magic from Augusta and her fellow angels, and a couple twists before the culprit is revealed.

All in all, it's a charming and relatively wholesome story. There's not much to shock or excite here, but it's a pleasant way to spend a balmy evening.

Read an excerpt of Miss Dimple and the Slightly Bewildered Angel here!

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Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. Come find the angie bee at Tumblr.

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