Watch out: Miss Julia’s at it again

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 4, 2008

“Miss Julia Paints the Town,” by Ann B. Ross. Viking. 2008. 326 pp. $24.95.By Deirdre Parker Smith
Salisbury Post
Ann B. Ross is NOT Miss Julia but she sure knows how the lady thinks, and is now out with the ninth novel featuring the feisty problem-solver.
In “Miss Julia Paints the Town,” Ross tackles a slew of topical subjects, not the least of which is development.
She also takes on risky investments for retirees, wandering spouses and “needs.”
Fans should feel right at home with these folks by now, and my guess is Miss Julia still has enough surprises up her sleeve to keep them coming back for more.
“Paints the Town” starts off at a quick clip, with one set of bad news just piling on top of the others.
Jealousy rears its ugly head and keeps showing it off, keeping all the ladies in a tizzy, even Miss Julia, who casts a wary eye on her Sam.
Gossip, it seems, is spreading a green poison over Miss Julia and her friends. And those ladies are behaving badly. Helen Stroud’s husband Richard has disappeared with a bunch of money from local investors. Helen won’t speak to Miss Julia, but calls on her beloved Sam first.
LuAnne Conover pops in to whine to Miss Julia that her Leonard has left to “find himself.” Small loss, Julia thinks. But LuAnne is steaming and suspects every woman in town of having an affair with her husband. She’s so catty you can hear the meow at the end of every sentence.
Rich and snooty Mildred learns her husband’s car has been found down a mountainside, minus Horace, her husband. A first she distraught, beside herself and near to fainting. Miss Julia knows Horace hasn’t had an independent thought in years, and Mildred treats him like a servant. But Mildred quickly warms to the idea of being a grieving widow and orders everyone around her to help her cope.
And if that’s not enough, Emma Sue Ledbetter stops by to tell Julia that her husband, Larry, the Presbyterian Church pastor, is thinking of taking a call in Raleigh. She, by golly, will not go with him.
But wait, what about the historic courthouse that’s set to be demolished? Has everyone forgotten that? There’s some upstart developer from New Jersey (!!!) who wants to build an eight-story monstrosity on the site and sell condos to upscale retirees.
Well, Miss Julia is a little busy suspecting Sam is having an affair with Helen. Now, with her unfortunate experience with her late, unlamented husband Wesley Springer, it’s easy to see how she’s been burned. But my, oh, my, she does jump to conclusions.
Along about Chapter 19, the courthouse plot comes back into play as Miss Julia is suckered into having a dinner party for the developer, Arthur Kessler.
It’s then she hatches her plan to really show him how Abbottsville is ó not the place to tear down a courthouse and build condos for outsiders.
Miss Julia comes up with questionable, then silly, then outright outrageous schemes to send Kessler packing.
Alas, the greedy county commissioners have done a deal with Kessler, and before you can say, “Boo,” the wrecking ball is saying “BAM” into those hallowed courthouse walls.
Now enjoy the wacky, crazy “preservation” plan Miss Julia puts into motion with Etta Mae Wiggins and Poochie Dunn.
And then, Ross begins to wrap things up, using revelations and returns to get all those flailing loose ends under control.
Now you knew it was going to be all right, didn’t you?
Miss Julia sums it up in her final comment: “Well, there are times when even a decorous and retiring woman has to take on the whole town, if need be, and use all the faculties at her disposal to see that justice does indeed prevail.”
Contact Deirdre Parker Smith at 704-797-4252 or dp1@salisbury