Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good: A New Mitford Novel, by Jan Karon. G.P. Putnam's Sons / Penguin Books U.S.A., 2014.
If I could beam myself to one literary place to spend an afternoon just before Christmas, I think I'd go to Mitford.
A blurb somewhere warned that the newest Mitford novel "contains death." That made me a bit leery of reading it, as we had been treated to a good dose of funerals in the last couple of Mitford installments. However, without giving too much away, this one does not contain any big shockers you won't like; no major characters drop dead. A few of them are obviously not doing so well these days, and there are a couple of close calls (a joyriding teenager wrecks Father Tim's Mustang), but for most of the book that's about as far as it goes. There also aren't any Barlowe siblings left to track down, so that ends that long-running subplot.
But there are surprises. The best one is Coot Hendrick. For most of the series, he's been on the fringe, somewhat despised, seemingly there mostly for rural comic relief. In this book, he takes the stage, in more ways than one (you'll have to read it to find out). It's a reminder that nobody is too far outside the circle, what Dallas Willard called the "divine conspiracy," to be drawn in, to become important and valued, to be able to give something in return. I will never think of Green Eggs and Ham in quite the same way again.
As she often does, Jan Karon brings everything to a climax over the Christmas season. If you liked Shepherds Abiding, you will, almost guaranteed, like this one too. Like Shepherds Abiding, a lot of the plot centers around the Happy Endings bookstore, but there's a twist this time: Father Tim and crew are holding things together there while the owner faces her own crisis.
And as always, there are some serious talks about faith, among the faithful, the somewhat-interested, and those still on the run. I like Father Tim's young "mini-me," saving his allowance for a copy of Wordsworth. I like the online Scrabble players. I can deal with the slightly melodramatic limousine subplot (no, it's not Edith this time). About the only character that I really don't buy is Mr. Edelman who runs the shoe store; he's a little too "oy" to be believable these days.
I don't know whether this is meant to be the last Mitford book or not. There are some loose ends, some things hinted at that never get really developed, but such is life. For those who have missed Mitford while Father Tim went wandering through Mississippi and meddling in Ireland--this is definitely recommended.