In Ann B. Ross’s Miss Julia Rocks the Cradle, the 12th in her “Miss Julia” series, suspense takes a backseat, while the amusing soap opera conditions prevailing in Miss Julia’s home weigh in more heavily. Hazel Marie is mightily pregnant with twins and about to give birth. She and her husband, Mr. Pickens, are now sharing Miss Julia’s house, along with Hazel Marie’s son, Lloyd, who has special ties with Miss Julia, as followers of the series know and newcomers will soon learn. Housekeeper Lillian and her great-granddaughter, Latisha, round out the bustling household, not to mention Miss Julia’s second husband, Sam, who understandably spends a deal of time writing a book over at his former home.

The “mystery” element involves a dead body discovered in a neighbor’s toolshed, identified as one Richard Stroud, who did time for conning Miss Julia and a number of other townsfolk out of their hard-earned cash through phony investments. What was Richard doing back in town, and why was he found in Miss Petty’s shed?  Miss Julia steps out into the night (literally) to find out, and this storyline weaves slowly but surely throughout the book.

The more engrossing part of the story focuses on the new twins, who are unhelpful enough to be born at night during a major blizzard, with Lillian, helper Etta Mae, and Miss Julia in attendance. Truth to tell, Miss J trembles throughout the ordeal (she’d be better off stalking a murder suspect on a dark night), and is not good for much besides warming the baby blankets in front of the fire (power’s gone out, too). The scene is terrifically well set and the dialogue perfect, becoming the most absorbing chapter in the book. The scene in the household during the following days is funny and charmingly described, effectively evoking the chaos of two colicky babies who make it impossible for assorted adults to find any escape from the all-day, all-night infant activity.

While Rocks the Cradle is not the most exciting or mystery-centered entry of the series, followers of the Southern sleuth will find that their heroine has lost none of her passion for uncovering clues, nor has she watered down her decidedly passionate opinions about all matters concerning small-town Abbotsville and its inhabitants. She endures some shaky ground when unexpected events leave her separated from Sam, but loyal readers will surely know that she prevails in the end.

 

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