Thursday, March 22, 2007

Book Review: The Angel and the Jabberwocky Murders

My "light" reading lately has been mostly science fiction, which happens when I try to catch up on my back issues of Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. (Highly recommended, by the way!)

I was in the mood for something different and stopped by the local library and found The Angel and the Jabberwocky Murders by Mignon F. Ballard. A mystery story! With an angel! With an Alice connection! Which promised "Heavenly Recipes"! This looks like a perfect piece of fluff.

The British have their "English village" mystery. Jabberwocky Murders is in a similar vein, but set in the town of Stone's Throw, South Carolina. I would call this a "little-old-lady" mystery, except the protagonist is my age!

Stone's Throw kind of reminds me of the town in Steel Magnolias--all the women know each other, they all go to the same beauty parlor, and everything is everyone's business. And it seems like everyone, except the college students, has two first names, or a strange one like "Willene" or "Weigelia."

Our heroine, Lucy Nan Pilgrim, is a widow, with two grown children, a daughter-in-law, and a six-year-old grandson. She is the part-time public relations director at the local restored plantation and is helping teach a "hands-on" history class at the local women's college. Lucy Nan is also a member of the Thursday Morning Literary Society, which now meets on Monday afternoons. The women are supposed to discuss books, but frequently get off track. The subject of discussion this particular October day is the college girl who has been having an affair with her English professor and who is now missing.

Lucy Nan also has a roommate: Augusta. Augusta is beautiful, wise, comforting, an oustanding cook and, oh yeah, she's an angel. A real one. The only people who can see Augusta are Lucy Nan (whom Augusta came to take care of) and Ellis, Lucy Nan's best friend since preschool.

While out in the woods on campus property, picking plants to dye wool, two of Lucy Nan's students find D.C.'s body. D.C.'s murder happened pretty close to where the body of another young college student was found four years previously. What ties these two murders together is that each received a photocopy of part of the poem Jabberwocky.

But who done it? Was it the English professor, who was known for having affairs? Could it someone else on the faculty or staff? And why?

And what is going on with Leslie, the great-niece of Lucy Nan's neighbor, Nettie? Why did Willene suddenly disappear in the dark of night? Tension mounts when Weilgelia's sister, Celeste, receives an anonymous note: another verse from Jabberwocky.

This is the fifth or sixth novel featuring Augusta Goodnight, so there's some backstory that I'm missing. But Ms. Ballard does a pretty good job of weaving the information you need to know into the narrative. There's a lot of "local color" and many discussions about food. As a bonus, recipes are included at the end of the novel for some of the featured dishes.

All in all, this book was exactly what I hoped it would be--a pleasant diversion on my morning and evening commute.

On the March Hare scale: 3 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks. Not particularly memorable, but not awful.

Note to Julie D: You'd probably enjoy the recipes! ;)