Ann B. Ross
Author of Miss Julia Delivers the Goods
April 30, 7 p.m.
Barnes & Noble
1812 Sam Rittenberg Blvd.
There's just something about the warmer months that makes a comedy or mystery ever so much more appealing than, say, the latest translation of War and Peace.
We all need a lighthearted page-turner to slip into the beach bag or to carry with us to a lawn chair in the garden when the sun is buzzing away high in the sky.
So here's the skinny on Miss Julia: She's a wealthy Southern widow of a certain age with a penchant for speaking her mind, helping decent folks out of all sorts of quandaries, and solving mysteries.
Here's another item of note about this straight-talking sleuth: She took in both her late husband's ex-mistress and the son she had by him after he passed. Miss Julia raised the child (Lloyd) as her own and formed a kinship as close as any mother-child relationship can be. That alone speaks volumes.
Since 1999, author Ann B. Ross has been telling the tale of Miss Julia through a series of mystery novels. You could start with the first book and read straight on through to the current installment, Miss Julia Delivers the Goods, which is the tenth in the series — or you could just grab the latest and devour it as a stand-alone.
Either way, if you've spent sufficient time in the South, Miss Julia is likely to remind you of someone you've known: a feisty aunt, let's say, one of the folks in the family tree with a bit more pepper than most.
As you may suspect from that, propriety is a priority for Miss Julia. Half the fun of these books is in how she manages to balance delicate situations with decorum and candor.
And a delicate situation is exactly what Hazel Marie finds herself in early on in Miss Julia Delivers the Goods. This puts our heroine on the path of making sure Hazel gets the best prenatal care, patches things up with her beau, and does not become the target of too much local gossip.
As if this weren't task enough, a robbery involving courtroom records stirs up skeletons in Abbotsville's closet from long ago.
So the tasks before Miss Julie are to keep the ladies of the local congregation from making life uncomfortable for Hazel Marie, to continue to do well for young Lloyd, and to piece together a precious few available clues as to who would steal the court records and why. That ought to do for an afternoon's work.
Like all of the Miss Julia books, this one is very well written (Ross taught literature at the University of North Carolina-Asheville for many years, and it shows). It's a book that's easy to breeze through and a lot of fun.
Don't fret if you can't find her town on a map, by the way. It's basically Hendersonville as seen through a late summer daydream. Drive up to the mountains of Western North Carolina and imagine a few handfuls of years slipping away as you go. That's about right for Abbotsville. It's a town that would be wonderful to find if that kind of town could still be found.
But that's what books like this are for. To be a late summer daydream, to let us slip away into a more innocent place every now and again.