I was intrigued to try more by Armstrong after reading her A Dram of Poison (1956) earlier this year. Like this earlier read, today’s book has an unconventional plot, eschewing the usual murder story. Instead we have James P. Medwick, a crossing guard or in the UK a lollipop man for an elementary and junior high school. All is peaceful until Mrs Tawley, the president of the parents’ safety council ignores his stop sign, which results in Medwick planning to report her to the police. The next day, Medwick’s birthday, sees not only his granddaughter Jane losing her tutoring job with Tawley’s son, but also sees Medwick himself fired after an anonymous note claims he has been behaving inappropriately around the children. Of course his family don’t believe these claims, yet nevertheless many of them think it would be better to slink quietly away than challenge the accusation. All except Jane and her fiancé who plan to get to the bottom of the note.
I have tried to be quite minimalist with the synopsis as this is an unusual variant of the inverted mystery. You can guess what has really happened, due to events I haven’t mentioned above, and how the characters have got the wrong end of the stick, so the mystery instead becomes one which concerns how things will work out. Whilst this tragi-comedic story line is perhaps quite simple, the main strength of this story lies in its characterisation and the emotionally charged atmosphere as Jane tries to get her grandfather’s name cleared in face of parent and school hysteria and apathy. Proving one’s innocence is far from easy in this story. Equally given the story line the author was very sensible in not over writing and this tale is more of a novella than a novel. So all in all an enjoyable quick read.
Just the Facts Ma’am (Silver Card): Made into a Film/TV/Play