Opening A Mystery

Better Lock the Door

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Judge Deborah Knotts

Tobacco field from Pixabay

 

The rural farmland of North Carolina is one of the last places one would go to find the lead in a modern mystery series. Yet that is exactly where Margaret Maron finds the lead of her Deborah Knotts series. The series lasted over 20 books and had a very promising start with the first book in 1992, Bootlegger’s Daughter, winning four of the top awards given out each year in the mystery field, the Edgar, the Anthony, the Agatha, and the Macavity.

I got in early on the series and felt like I had found a new family. I love studying the family dynamics in a story. One of the things I like about the Murder, She Baked shows on Hallmark is how Hannah Swenson’s mother and sister are always butting into her personal life. Funny and it comes off as so real.

Knotts’s family gives us a lot to study. She’s the youngest of twelve children. And the only daughter. Of course, all of the brothers feel they are responsible for her. At least that was what their parents told them when she was a child. And there’s one thing about families, we never let the younger grow up.

Several of her brothers are old enough to be her father and aren’t afraid to step into that role, whether she asks them to or not. With all the brothers, in-laws, nephews and nieces, cousins, etc., there are always things going on someone would rather kept hidden. The family dinners remind one of the closeness of the Ragan family on Blue Bloods on steroids.

But let’s be sure to not make one mistake, this is not a family of angels and Deborah knows it. She isn’t surprised when one of her cousins or other family member appears before her bench. And they know she will be fair, but she won’t be walked over either.

Not only does Deborah come from a large family, she’s also in politics. She is a District Court judge in fictional Colleton County. She is constantly having to run for votes, keeping on her toes and with a smile pasted on her face. Her court cases can get her into quite a pickle, inside and outside the courtroom.

Add to all this, her father was a well-established bootlegger even beyond the county lines. ( I know, the title of the first book gave this away. But it’s still good.) Deborah is continually finding that old roots run deep. And grow into interesting places.

These are the kind of stories that you can lose yourself in. You don’t turn the page to get to the end of the book but to see what happens next. Coming to the end was always disappointing because I didn’t want to leave the community Maron makes.

I like how we are allowed to see Deborah age and mature. We watch as she goes through a lot of not-right relationships. When she does find the right one, will she get her brothers to go along with it? And we see how the cases change not only herself, but her family and those and her.

I also like to see a series that continue after the marriage. She does get married later in the series and their relationship, a judge and a cop, adds so much spice. So many stories seem to either never let the star settle on someone, or when they do, end the series. Writers seem to think that once they get married, there is no more romance and no more excitement. Oh, how little they know. And how much conflict we miss.

Bootlegger’s daughter book cover

This is only one of two series Margaret Maron has written. I like to think she brought a lot of herself in creating Judge Knott. She told, in an interview, how she “grew up on a modest  two-mule tobacco farm that had been in the family for over a hundred years.” She went home and lived on a corner of the family farm.

She wanted to character to be a “young woman with one foot in the agrarian past and one foot in the urban present.” You can see this in how Deborah feels the strength and history when she walks around the farm.

Having grown up on a peach farm in South Carolina foothills, I know the whisper of the land when you go back. Things have changed greatly, our orchards and her tobacco fields are gone, but there is more to that land than just the crops. You feel this in her books. And you can understand why so many issues concerning our farmlands affect Deborah and her family so strongly.

But the best thing I can say about  Judge Deborah  Knotts is she is the sister or sister-in-law many of us would love to have. To a point. She also isn’t going to let you get by with anything, which a lot of people in the stories are sad to discover.

Jennifer Dornbush’s Hole In the Woods

Hole In the WoodsSometimes, when you are reading a book, you realize that you are experiencing more than a story. I experienced it when I reviewed Hole In the Woods by Jennifer Graeser Dornbush for Killer Nashville (Read review here.).

Based on a true story, this book is about a police officer who investigates the cold case of the murder of a seventeen-year-old girl thirty years ago. Even after so much time, the small town was reluctant to let her probe into their long-buried secrets. But with a lot of determination and courage, she is finally able to dig to the truth.

What makes this book even more is the author’s empathy with the subject. She understands the importance to the family for solving a criminal case even after decades of silence. It’s easy to forget that, until a criminal investigation is completed, the family and friends are left hanging in limbo, buried in suspicions and often guilt. It often takes an enormous toil on them. Dornbush’s books are a testament to their struggle.

At the end of the book, She has a chapter about meeting with the father of the original girl. She includes a letter from him telling how he felt over the years. of not hearing anything new.

She also has information about the Cold Case Foundation, It is “an all-volunteer board and staff of law enforcement experts from the FBI, police branches, and investigators and forensic experts from around the nation.” They assist law enforcement agencies to help with the hardest cases at no cost.

Ms Dornbush is the daughter of a medical examiner. She is able to bring an authenticity to a crime scene as well as to the families and friends of the victim.

You can now find the book at your favorite book dealer.

Lillian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who Series

Part of the Cat Who Seriess

The Cat Who books

By Tim Suddeth

In the 1980s and 90s, I remember being one of the many readers caught up on the speeding train known as The Cat Who . . . series. Lillian Jackson Braun ‘s The Cat Who series introduced us to a former big-city journalist. Jim Qwilleran,  who had moved to a small town called Pickax, which was “400 miles north of everywhere.” Which was located in Moose County, no less. In total, she wrote 29 novels for the series. For many years, she had a new book coming out annually, usually just before Christmas. And I couldn’t wait for the next one to arrive. I’m cheap, but this was the one series I collected in hardback.

It was fun to curl up and read of the happenings in and around the small town, sometimes by the lake in the summer, but often with the threat of a town-closing snowfall in the forecast.

I have to admit, it wasn’t so much for the mystery that I was looking forward to.  No, her strong points were  the settings and the characters in the stories. Continue reading

Welcome to Opening a Mystery.

Shelf of mysteries

So many books to get to.

I am your host, Tim Suddeth, and I look forward to having you join me as Opening a Mystery delves into the world of mystery and suspense, past and present. I plan to visit with authors from the past like Edgar Allan Poe, Sir Conan Doyle, Dame Agatha Christie, and Ngaio Marsh (I have no idea how to pronounce that.) We may have to spend a lot of time in the fog of London.

We will meet present day best sellers and debut authors. And we will learn of those in between from all different periods of mystery and suspense writing.

Opening a Mystery will, also, meet the guests of honor: the heroes, heroines, and ne’er-do-wells who are the focus of these stories. The police officers, gumshoes, innocent bystanders, and nosy snoops. Aren’t they the real reasons we love mysteries so much ?

I also, want to look at the stories. There will be book reviews, overview of series, and we will investigate the many different categories, sub-genres, and some sub-sub-genres. Opening a Mystery will look at many series that use their settings so well, we use the books as mini-vacations. Maybe you will discover a new interest or friend.

Honestly, I don’t know what all we’ll find. That’s what happens when you  dare to enter the back alleys late at night.

 

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