FORT MILL — When I was in fourth grade, my Language Arts teacher guided our class through reading “Aunt Matilda’s Ghost,” a ghost story and mystery by Fort Mill author Mignon Ballard.
I can trace my lifelong love of reading directly back to the day that Mrs. Turner passed those books out to the class and I began to read Ballard’s novel for young adults. I’m sure there was a schedule for reading certain pages and chapters at specific times, but I took home “Aunt Matilda’s Ghost” that day and devoured the book in one sitting. One week later, I read it again, and over the next few years I would probably read it a half dozen times.
Now, nearly thirty years later, Ballard is still producing novels that urge me to find a spot in the corner of my couch, curl up, and not move for hours.
“Miss Dimple Suspects” is Ballard’s latest novel, the third in the Miss Dimple Kirkpatrick series. The mystery follows Dimple Kirkpatrick, a first-grade teacher in a small town during World War II as she and her friends investigate a murder and attempt to prove the innocence of a young woman who, against odds, becomes their friend.
The book confronts racism against Japanese-Americans during the war and exposes the quick damage that can be done by misinformation and gossip.
Kirkpatrick is a no-nonsense woman but warm and kind, and you have to wonder if Ballard modeled her after a teacher or two in the Fort Mill School District. That’s the fun of having an author in our midst, guessing who amongst us might appear in the books.
The town of Elderberry is a perfect canvas for Kirkpatrick’s adventures – small enough for word to travel fast ( thanks in large part to the town gossip, Emmaline Brumlow) but large enough to give Kirkpatrick and her friends some real ground to cover as they attempt to solve the murder.
The quirky characters give the fast-moving story line a homey feeling, and stick with you long after the story is complete. I found myself wondering if the soldiers briefly mentioned would return home safely from the war, and how the rest of the townspeople would fare as the war continued on.
Luckily, more Miss Dimple novels are on the way that may answer some of those questions. “Miss Dimple Picks a Peck of Trouble” is due out in 2014, according to Ballard’s website.
Ballard is also known for the popular August Goodnight Mysteries, as well as six other mysteries for adults, “Aunt Matilda’s Ghost,” and “The War in Sallie’s Station.”
Locally, Ballard wrote the script and some lyrics for “Bandstand Tales,” a two-act musical that tells the history of Fort Mill, which was performed by the Fort Mill Community Playhouse in 2006.
Ballard is moving back to her home state of Georgia next month. Her final local appearance will be at the Del Webb Library in Indian Land on May 11 at 10:30 a.m.
From the day I picked up “Aunt Matilda’s Ghost” thirty years ago until yesterday, when I put down “Miss Dimple Suspects,” I have read, easily, thousands of books. Were it not for Ballard helping to spark my love of reading, my home would sometimes be cleaner. My laundry would be folded and not piled on chairs, and dinner for my family might have been more than just a thrown together jumble of something from the pantry.
Wouldn’t that be boring?
Not even Miss Dimple, who is so fastidious that she keeps white gloves in the bottom of her purse in case she needs to “call on” someone, would approve.