Miss Dimple Disappears is a historical mystery set in the small town of Elderberry, Georgia, nearly a year after Pearl Harbor. Nearly all of the town's young men have left to fight overseas, except for Jesse Dean Greeson, whose vision impairment is a liability, and handsome Hugh Brumlow, who held back from enlisting to take care of his overbearing mother and her (invented) medical problems.
The plot centers on the women teachers of the Elderberry Grammar School. Miss Dimple Kilpatrick has been a fixture in the first-grade classroom for 40 years and is beloved by students and teachers alike. Indeed, many of her colleagues are former pupils.
Right before Thanksgiving, the school custodian is discovered dead in an upstairs storage room, victim of an apparent heart attack or stroke. Then Miss Dimple never comes back from her early morning constitutional the following day. The principal and police chief are deflecting queries about both crimes, and even Miss Dimple's brother near Atlanta seems oddly nonchalant about her disappearance.
Fourth grade teacher Charlie Carr and her colleague Annie know something is amiss, though, and Miss Dimple's students are worried. One imaginative young boy reports that he sees German spies at the playground, and insists he saw someone kidnap Miss Dimple from a street corner, but nobody will believe him.
While Charlie works through her feelings for Hugh - she's awfully fond of him but hesitates to call it love - she and Annie do some of their own investigating, as do her mother and Aunt Lou. Miss Dimple, shut up in a dingy basement, makes her own efforts toward her rescue, too. She is a delight. Forced to eat horrid food, and left with nothing to read but bland romance novels, she makes clever requests of her masked captor and leaves clues for people to find her.
Mignon Ballard gently re-creates this not-so-distant time with nostalgia and realism. Women save waste fat from their kitchens to produce glycerin for the war effort, switchboard operator Florence McCrary eavesdrops on private conversations (and everyone knows it), and families hang blue stars in their windows to honor their sons away at war. Nobody wants to see the messenger boy arrive on his black bicycle, for he brings telegrams with the most devastating news possible.
There are a lot of townspeople to keep track of, and the plot can be quite leisurely, but overall this is a nicely-put-together cozy mystery that delivers an ample amount of suspense at just the right time.
Miss Dimple Disappears was published in trade paperback by Minotaur in October at $14.99 (262pp). It's first in a series, and the sequel, Miss Dimple Rallies to the Cause, was published in hardcover last week.