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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Y'all Gotta Check This One Out

Thirty-something Deborah Knott is no soft Southern belle. In some ways, she's been challenging North Carolina's good ol' boy system almost since the day she was born. Determined to escape the expectations of her brothers and father, she became a lawyer with political ambition. Well, what else would you expect from the daughter of Colleton County's biggest bootlegger?

When Bootlegger's Daughter by Margaret Maron opens, Deborah is smack dab in the middle of her campaign for a district court judgeship. For a white woman with a dubious family background, it's a bit of a long shot, but Deborah knows she could do the job well. It will just take some work to convince the rest of the county's residents.

Just when she can't really handle anything more on her plate, she is approached by young Janie Whitehead. Janie's story is known to everyone in town - 18 years ago, her mother's body was discovered in an abandoned mill. She had been brutally murdered. Rescuers found the pair when they heard the squalls of infant Janie, who was wailing from a baby carrier near her mother's side. The murder was never solved. Now that Janie is 18, she has access to a trust fund set up by her grandfather; she's determined to use it for one thing only - to track down her mother's killer. Janie's father tries to discourage the search, but finally suggests that maybe Deborah can help without draining the girl's trust fund. Reluctantly, Deborah agrees to help.

With the aid of Colleton County's finest (most of whom are either old boyfriends or fishing buddies), Deborah looks into the crime. She questions old suspects, roots out secrets, and gets shot at for her trouble. While playing Sherlock Holmes, her campaign is challenged by the appearance of notices on her letterhead slamming her opponents in the election. As if that isn't bad enough, bodies are starting to pile up, and Deborah's making startling discoveries about the genteel people she's known all her life.

When Deborah looks a little too closely at a particular suspect, she finds the clue that will lead her to the killer ... that is, if she isn't shot in the process.

I liked this mystery, the first in a series starring Deborah Knott. I could have done without the homosexual subplot and profanity (Neither is excessive; it was enough to make me blush, but not abandon the book), but besides that, it was an intriguing story. Knott evokes a sense of place that made me feel as if I'd grown up in Colleton County, fishing with the Knott brothers and seeing Dr. Vickery for my ailments. It has enough "y'all"s and "shuga"s to give it that nice, Southern feel, but it's not all iced tea and magnolia flowers in this Southern murder mystery. As writer Sue Dunlap puts it, Bootlegger's Daughter is "like a field of honeysuckle with copperheads underneath" (back cover). It's an engrossing, well-written mystery that will have you exclaiming "y'all got to be kidding me" by the time it comes to its surprising, satisfying end. Note: After my extensive time in the South (3 days to be precise) I may have gotten some of the "Southern speak" wrong, but trust me, Margaret Maron gets it all right.

Grade: B


  1. Yea!!! You've discovered one of my very, very favorite mystery series. I have read and loved all the Deborah Knott books. I wait each year (and Margaret Maron produces one most years) for the new visit to Colleton County and all the characters I have come to love so much. I'm glad you liked it. So much happens in the books to come. I hope you'll continue with the series.

  2. I read that book years ago and really liked it! Back in October, I was lucky enough to have an author chat with Ms. Maron to discuss HARD ROW. I was so impressed with Ms. Maron and her writing. She examines the illegal immigrant issue in NC in HARD ROW -- a subject about which she is very passionate. She is a wonderful writer and a wonderful woman!

  3. I'm so glad you liked this. She has quite a few books in this series, so there are quite a few to keep you busy for a while.


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