A murder horrifies the residents of a small Georgia town already coping with the deprivations of wartime living.
The blazing hot summer of 1944 is taking a toll on the hardy citizens of Elderberry, who consider themselves lucky to be living in a rural area where they can grow and can their own food. Respected teacher and part-time sleuth Miss Dimple Kilpatrick is picking peaches with her fellow teachers, Charlie Carr and Annie Gardner, when Miss Dimple hears a scream. Only later do they learn that the lovely Prentice Blair has vanished from her job selling produce at the Peach Shed while her somewhat older best friend, Charlie’s sister Delia, was across the road buying some cold soda. When her body is found, her longtime boyfriend, Clay Jarrett, whose family owns the peach farm, is immediately suspected. Prentice and Clay had recently split, partly over her decision to go away to college even though he wanted to marry. In addition, Prentice had been depressed since the recent death of a woman who had been like a mother to her. Miss Dimple is certain that Clay does not have it in him to murder the woman he desperately loved, despite his admission that Prentice had told him she had sex with a man she didn’t name. A woman living in a nearby shack claims she saw the killer and found something that could identify him, but since she thinks that she’s Scarlett O’Hara battling both Yankees and Nazis, only Miss Dimple understands that her testimony might be worthwhile. When she’s found dead as well, Miss Dimple and her friends go all out to discover the identity of Prentice’s lover.
Ballard’s latest exercise in nostalgia (Miss Dimple Suspects, 2013, etc.) presents more delightful characters tangled in a solid mystery.