Angel at Troublesome Creek
Martin's Minotaur (Hardcover),
This fact in and of itself is what keeps Angel at Troublesome Creek, the first in a new series by mystery author Mignon F. Ballard, from becoming just another Touched by an Angel clone. Mary George's angel, Augusta Goodnight, more closely resembles Mary Poppins than Della Reese's angelic persona. Augusta makes life about as easy for her earthly assignment as a hurricane. With her bottomless floral handbag and her love of chocolate and country line dancing, Ballard's circa 1940s heavenly messenger adds more complication to Mary George's upturned life than she alleviates.
But Augusta's heart is in the right place. And she manages to point her troubled charge in the right direction, once in awhile.
In the small North Carolina town of Troublesome Creek, everyone knows everybody. And it would seem everybody loved Aunt Caroline -- except the person who gave her an unfriendly push down the stairs.
Instead of allowing Mary George to wallow in her latest failed attempt at self-destruction, Augusta forces Mary George to examine the things about her aunt's accident that don't add up. These include the disorder of her aunt's usually near-immaculate attic, the curious placement of the ceramic cookie jar, and a mysterious letter about the family bible that suddenly goes missing. Of course, the fact that someone ransacks Mary George's apartment and she suddenly develops a vehicular shadow only confirms Mary George's suspicions.
Ballard offers the reader and poor Mary George a handful of suspicious types and enough red herrings to make reader and heroine doubt the sincerity of almost every person that crosses Mary George's path. Was the killer the skittish woman who says she only went to Aunt Caroline for piano lessons? Could it be Aunt Caroline's best friend, who may be harboring decades' old resentments beneath her sugary southern sweetness and a passel of cats? Ballard leaves the reader guessing right up to the end, tossing odd phone messages, strangely timed warnings, and even a possessive ex-boyfriend into the already murky brew of dead ends and wrong turns.
And what does Augusta do to help her perplexed charge? She admonishes Mary George's bad language and eats her weight and then some in chocolate! But Ballard makes Augusta lovable despite her off-key renditions of World War II era tunes and antiquated fashion sense.
Maybe Augusta doesn't dose out spoonfuls of sugar and sing-songy advice. But then, when you're at the end of your rope -- rather literally -- and searching for your aunt's killer, chocolate and the Achy Breaky work just as well.
Diana L. Marsh
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