Hendersonville-based author Ann B. Ross released Miss Julia Rocks the Cradle this past spring. It’s the 12th in Ross’ “Miss Julia” series, a collection of mystery novels based around heroine Julia Murdoch, a well-meaning woman of a certain age who, more often than not, lets her keen intellect and overwhelming sense of curiosity get the better of her. Miss Julia is something like Agatha Christie‘s British sleuth Miss Marple (the carefully-coiffed hair, the penchant for skirt suits, the mystery-cracking mind in the body of church lady) — only with a southern vocabulary and a hectic household to distract at every turn.
In fact, Cradle itself is hectic, taking off at a breakneck pace with little in the way of introduction or setup before launching into the midst of the mystery at hand (someone has died in Miss Julia’s neighbor’s toolshed) as well as the comings and goings of an over-flowing household. Miss Julia, a widow recently remarried (to Sam), is not only adjusting to sharing a house with her husband, but has also taken in the woman for whom her ex-husband left her. The former-mistress/fellow widow/fellow newlywed Hazel Marie has a young son of her own (Lloyd) who also lives with Miss Julia, and Hazel Marie expecting twins by new her new husband (Mr. Pickens). Since Mr. Pickens is on the road, Miss Julia’s housekeeper/co-conspiritor Lillian is on hand to help out. With Lillian comes her great-granddaughter Latisha. And then, to ready for the babies, hospice nurse Etta Mae has also moved in. It’s a full house.
On her website, Ross assures her readers that, “I tried to make each book stand alone, so that a reader could start with any one of them.” Indeed, the action is engaging enough, the banter witty enough and the story is eventually fleshed out enough for the reader to piece together the complex web of relationships and the parts of the story carried over from previous installments.
Fans of Miss Julia already know what they’re in for. Cradle turns up few surprises, but it is pleasantly consistent and predictably fun. For the reader unfamiliar with Ross’ style and characters, the fact that Lillian (an African-American housekeeper) speaks in dialect may be disarming. The dialect seems unnecessary — does it matter that Lillian is not caucasian? Not for the purposes of Cradle. Miss Julia also speaks in a dialect of sort, uttering southernisms like, “They Lord!” This seems more in keeping with the building of a particular type of character than does Lillian’s speech (“Jus’ wait a minute — this fine girl gonna have her mama in a minute. Law me, jus’ look at that head of hair.”).
Another shortcoming — at least for the serious mystery reader — is that Cradle gets so wrapped up with babies being born, relationships gone awry, visits from the new minister, etc. that the actual solving of the mystery (remember the body in the tool shed?) is shoved into the book’s final chapters. But, at a dozen Miss Julia novels, Ross has established both her voice and her fan base and neither need to change in order to assure success for this literary venture.
Looking for a light summer read by a tried-and-true local author? Miss Julia Rocks the Cradle easily fits the bill. Check Ann B. Ross’ tour schedule for local reading dates this fall.