Books: Recent releases by three SC authors

books@thestate.comFebruary 17, 2013 

  • AT A GLANCE “Anonymity” by Janna McMahan; Koehlerbooks (281 pages, $15.95) “Miss Dimple Suspects” by Mignon F. Ballard; Minotaur Books (260 pages, $14.99) “The Anatomist’s Wife” by Anna Lee Huber; Berkley Prime Crime (354 pages, $15)

Three female authors with South Carolina ties have new books on the shelves: We get a glimpse at their works.

For 15 years, Columbia author Janna McMahan carried with her the image of a young teen whose face bore a collection of tattoos.

This month, another tattooed young face will look out from the bookshelves in McMahan’s latest work, “Anonymity,” a story of homeless teenagers. McMahan sets the book in Austin, Texas, where her brother lives and where she saw the face that affected her so deeply.

“My intentions are always to write something that’s entertaining,” McMahan says, but eventually, “some sort of issue tends to be key to the plot.” In “Anonymity,” it’s homelessness. McMahan’s publisher will contribute a portion of the proceeds from her book to an organization that helps homeless teens.

“Anonymity” – and homelessness – pulls together a core of characters who otherwise would never know one another. At the center of the novel is “Lorelei,” who is running from her past for reasons she will not explain. Eventually, she encounters Travis, an unscrupulous reporter; Emily, a bartender trying to find her own way; and David, a counselor at a drop-in shelter.

Into and out of the novel comes a collection of homeless teens – and those who torment them. (The book includes a murder.) But at the core, the tale centers on one girl and the decisions she makes in order to control her own life, for good or ill.

“I always end up writing about young women,” says McMahan, the mother of a 16-year-old. At that age, “you’re making a whole lot of decisions that affect the rest of your life” – perhaps without the maturity to do so well.

“It’s a pretty precarious time.”

McMahan’s book was released in January for a reason: That’s the month most cities perform a census of the homeless.

Maybe this year, she hopes, people will understand that the homeless are more than numbers on a tally sheet.

Mignon Ballard of Fort Mill is the author of two series and a collection of murder mysteries. He latest heroine is Miss Dimple Kilpatrick of Elderberry, Ga., a schoolteacher possessed of a keen mind and capacious handbag.

Miss Dimple seems to find trouble –although, goodness knows, she doesn’t seek it – and to resolve it with the aid of a group of inquisitive (some would call them nosy) compatriots, women passing their days until their sons and lovers return from World War II.

While they aren’t busy concocting hard-to-swallow Victory Muffins (Ms. Dimple may be a patriot, but she isn’t much of a baker) or forgoing the use of metal to lend what they can to the war effort, the group engages in peopling what are called “cozy mysteries.” That means that the murders “aren’t gory,” says Ballard, 78 – although, she points out, “I kill them just as dead.”

Miss Dimple’s latest outing comes in “Miss Dimple Suspects,” the third of a series, in which a reclusive artist dies from a bonk on the head. The townsfolk suspect a Japanese woman who lives with the artist – her fingerprints are on the andiron used to commit the crime – but Miss Dimple knows better. She has just met the suspect herself but sticks out her gracious neck to help.

Ballard writes mysteries because they fascinate her, she says. A writer since age 7 – coincidentally, at the start of World War II – “this is what I do.”

A journalism major at the University of Georgia way back when, Ballard began her book-writing career with a wallpapered room’s worth of rejection slips. She treated those with humor – today, she asks her husband whether he would like milk on his cereal by querying, “Does it ‘suit your present needs’?”

She persisted, winning a long-ago contest at Winthrop College that allowed her to publish a children’s book. Since then, she has published 18 more books, many of them mysteries.

Anna Lee Huber, a 1998 graduate of Lexington High School, has just published her first book: “The Anatomist’s Wife,” a historical mystery with a tinge of romance.

The survivor of three finished but rejected works, Huber feels she has hit on the right formula this time: more mystery, less romance.

In her tale, the eponymous heroine has taken refuge in her sister’s castle in the Scottish Highlands, hoping the world will forget her role in the scandal that surrounded her husband’s death. The year is 1830, and Lady Darby has overstepped the bounds that proscribe the “decent” role reserved for women.

Scandal follows Lady Darby to the Highlands, when a beautiful and promiscuous guest of her sister’s family is stabbed to death in the estate’s garden maze. It is then that Lady Darby must assist the charming but repulsive – to her, anyway – Mr. Gage in investigating the crime.

Huber always has loved writing and was determined to become published. Lady Darby has brought that – along with a three-book contract.

“I was always fascinated with history,” says Huber, who now lives in Ohio and manages the family web-development business. “It was my favorite subject in school.”

Huber says she always looked beyond the facts, trying to discern “the narrative in history.”

Her Lady Darby has a strong but suppressed will – and a talent for anatomy, which comes in handy in Gage’s murder inquiry. If she is a little more outspoken than a man of the 1830s might find attractive – and Gage clearly finds Lady Darby attractive – well, then, that’s a compromise made for today’s readers, who would not tolerate a simpering heroine.

“To me, she’s a strong juxtaposition,” Huber says of Lady Darby. “She’s strong in some areas and not in others. I think most people are that way.

“I love writing her.”

Reach books writer Christine Schweickert at to suggest stories on books or authors with South Carolina connections, email

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