A group of darling elderly Southern ladies with fanciful names prove their mettle in Trobaugh’s precious, endearingly soap-and-bath-powder latest (after Swan Place, 2002, etc.).
On the death of one of its members, Love-Divine Brockett King, the Tea-Olive Bird Watching Society inherits the 13 acres of wooded land next to her farmhouse, handy when the group needs to spy on the new resident there, a widower judge from New York. The five ladies of the society, all but one native to Tea-Olive, Ga., and named after lyrics in the Baptist Hymnal (Beulah, Sweet, Wildwood and Zion—Memphis being the exception), “behaved appropriately at all times,” except when one of the group, the renegade unmarried Sweet, lets herself be secretly wooed by the mysterious judge. Nuptials follow a little too hastily, and Sweet finally gets the man of her dreams, settling into Love-Divine’s old farmhouse—until the judge’s autocratic temper begins to assert itself. After a bit of snooping, which the society ladies excel at because they know everyone in town, they learn that the judge’s two previous wives died suspiciously. He now gets himself invited to join the city council, makes noises about dissolving the town’s library and stops allowing Sweet to see her old friends. “I spend every minute of my life trying to avoid making him angry,” says she pathetically. When Sweet is spotted with a bruised eye, the ladies take action and plot ways of murdering the hateful old judge, first by poisoning his turtle stew (they have to get a large turtle and try to kill it first), then by letting the judge’s bull out of its pen to trample him. Though couched in a saccharine irony, the story is a grim tale of elderly female powerlessness turned upside-down, and Sweet’s bruises and subjugation by the evil, controlling widower are no laughing matter. Trobaugh knows her audience, and she fine-tunes her sweet-tempered ladies-of-steel in sharp, witty characterizations.
Uncomplicated Southern farce that works with bubbling bravado.