This is the coziest of cozy mysteries, nary a body in sight nor a life-threatening situation for Miss (really Mrs. Sam Murdoch) Julia, the heroine. My first thought was "Ho-hum, this is going to be slow going," but barely into the book I was absolutely charmed by Miss Julia and her friends. She's a Southern belle with almost Victorian standards, and yet not above hinting gently at things of the flesh.
Two plot lines fuel this, the twelfth book in this series. In one, Etta Mae, a home health worker and a protégée of Miss Julia's, is accused of attacking a woman in her care and stealing a valuable gold bracelet. The victim is, however, the most unpleasant and vindictive of women, who has just moved back to Abbotsville after the death of her fifth husband (and there's something suspicious about the death of number four). When Julia wonders how Francie Pitts keeps attracting men, Sam suggests that perhaps Francie knows certain erotic secrets. That leaves Miss Julia in a tizzy, wondering if she should learn those secrets, not that she would ever bring the subject up.
And the church brings in a marriage enrichment counselor, Dr. Fred Fowler, with whom Miss Julia had a previous embarrassing encounter in her widowhood days. She's terrified that Dr. Fowler will recognize her, yet Sam insists that they should support the church program. Once again, Julia is in a quandary: does he think their marriage needs enrichment? She thought it was pretty rich. But she feigns illness to avoid the meetings, and then has a hard time convincing everyone she's not deathly ill. And Francie Pitts, with her eye on Sam Murdoch for her sixth husband, is hopeful that Julia's illness will be fatal.
And then there's Hazel Marie and her new husband, J. D. Pickens. It took Hazel Marie a long time to drag him to the altar, but he succumbed when she turned up expecting twins. So Hazel Marie, J. D., and her teen-age son Lloyd are living with Miss Julia and Sam. Lillian, the-housekeeper pretty much completes the cast of zany characters, except for various gossip-minded ladies of the church.
It's all good fun, except that it's serious—Etta Mae could go to jail, Julia's marriage could be in trouble, and Hazel Marie's pregnancy is in jeopardy. Miss Julia is the ultimate schemer and amateur detective, and in the end she straightens it all out in a denouement that brings her, Francie Pitts, and Fred Fowler together in the church's bridal parlor—along with Pastor Ledbetter—in yet another embarrassing (and hilarious) scene.
Don't expect Miss Julia to walk down the aisle again (she and Sam have already had two weddings, though the first was not binding and they're not absolutely sure about the second). But the way they renew their vows will give you a chuckle.
I for one am going back to catch up on Miss Julia's earlier adventures.
Ann B. Ross holds a doctorate in English from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and has taught literature at the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She lives in Henderson, North Carolina. This is the tenth in her serious featuring southern heroine Miss Julia. Visit her website.
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