Reviewed by Paul H. Yarbrough
If you haven’t read any of Ann Ross’s Miss Julia series, you have missed a clever protagonist and delightful character with whom you could have become quite close. Miss Julia is a light-plotted Miss Marple with a touch of Jan Karon’s easy-going, Southern, genteel, feminine style (think Mitford series). Ms. Ross, who lives in Hendersonville, NC, uses Hendersonville as the basis for the setting in her Miss Julia books.
Miss Julia Rocks the Cradle incorporates some of the characters from Ross’s earlier novels in this series. To have read Ross’s first installment is useful but not requisite to reading this novel. Though the plot occasionally retreats to events in prior novels, readers are not likely to be confused.
One vivid episode presents Miss Julia in the role of midwife. When an unexpected winter storm prevents her former and now once again friend, Hazel Marie Pickens, from getting to the hospital and also keeps emergency services from reaching Hazel Marie’s house, Miss Julie ably assists. Hazel Marie’s twins are half-siblings to Lloyd, the son, via an affair, of Hazel Marie and Miss Julia’s first husband–Wesley Lloyd Springer, now deceased.
Though having no children of her own, Miss Julia demonstrates a motherly interest and instinct as she assists in the delivery.
The central plot, however, revolves around a body that is discovered in a neighbor’s tool shed within viewing distance of local lothario and huckster Thurlow Jones, a man who “took inordinate pleasure in being offensive to a lady’s sense of decency, to say nothing of his attempts to put his hands on her person.”
A connection between Jones and Richard Stroud, another huckster who had conned Miss Julia in a previous financial scam, boils up to a surprise ending that reveals the identification of the deceased. That connection also reveals another problem for Miss Julia: she does not know who has been cashing bad checks in her name.
The happenings are so “brouhaha” to Sam Murtaugh, Miss Julia’s husband, that Sam and Julia quarrel and he moves out, adding another strain on Miss Julia.
Ross succeeds in keeping the dialogue snappy and clever, as in her other Miss Julia books. Miss Julia, Sam, Lillian (Miss Julia’s ever-present helper), Hazel Marie, Lloyd and various other characters quip and converse as Julia tries to solve the mystery behind the body, as well as find the person who has been cashing checks (at one point she is called to the police station for questioning) in her name. Being interrogated by the police even briefly is a high crime for Miss Julia, who explains that “it’d been all I could do to keep from shouting. ‘They arrested me! Help me! Help me!’ and disrupting everybody at the dinner table.”
All’s well that ends well for Miss Julia and her merry band of supporting characters as she eventually solves the mystery. Sam returns, and the twins are well cared for. By the novel’s end, readers ought to be happy for their journey with Miss Julia.
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