Monday, February 17, 2014

Death of a Butterfly: Margaret Maron

Julie Redmond is a beautiful woman with few friends. She has been killed in her apartment, shortly after her young son has left for an outing with a neighbor. As Lieutenant Sigrid Harald digs into Julie Redmond's past, she finds that many people would be better off with her dead.


Quote from the entry on this series in Killer Books (1998, by Jean Swanson & Dean James):
Sigrid Harald, Maron's first character, features in a series of police procedurals in the traditional vein set in New York City; her debut was in the novel One Coffee With (Raven House/Worldwide, 1981). Sigrid is a tightly sealed-up character, efficient and seemingly emotionless as the series opens, but as the books progress, Sigrid slowly become less uninvolved with those around her, largely thanks to a relationship with a character introduced in the first book of the series. This series is a textbook example of how a writer can use a series for the natural and interesting development of a character who continues to grow and change.
So what do I like about this series and this book in particular?

To summarize points I made in my review of One Coffee With, the first book in the series:
  • I enjoy reading books written in earlier times because they often give a picture of what that time and the attitudes were actually like. This series was written in the early 1980's for the most part, and it reflects those times.
  • This is a typical police procedural (especially for the time it was written), but the female protagonist and her emotional issues bring another facet to the story.
I noted in my review of the first book in the series that Sigrid has emotional issues; she resists getting close to people.  Maybe in a male police detective, this would be less noticeable; in a woman, people seem to hold it against her. In this second entry in the series, there is less emphasis on Sigrid's issues with personal relationships and with her mother and father, although there is mention of them here and there. There is a continuing acknowledgement that she comes over to many of the people she works with as cold and condescending. Many of her colleagues who work closely with her know there is more beneath the surface, but even they don't try to breach her reserve.

The mystery is a traditional one, with clues. I missed the clues and was surprised by the ending, but they were definitely there. The emotional issues are there, but all of the personal development is subsidiary to the mystery itself. Her personal life does not take over the story.

As mentioned in the quote above, Harald is Margaret Maron's first series character. In 1992, she started another series with a female protagonist, Judge Deborah Knott. This series has been very successful, and is set in the state Maron grew up in, North Carolina. The first in the series, Bootlegger's Daughter, won four awards for Best Novel: an Edgar, an Agatha, an Anthony, and a Macavity. I have read two books in this series, and I prefer the Sigrid Harald series. But I am planning to check out another book or two in the Deborah Knott series. Maybe I will be more open to the setting and the series now.

I will close with this excerpt from a very interesting interview with the author from 2011:
MM: Place is absolutely crucial to writing. In fact, I take my characters and I put them in a certain place, and I let my story grow organically out of the setting.
...
At the time I created [recurring character] Sigrid Harald, you didn’t have a whole lot of senior women police officers. Women were looked upon as poaching on men’s grounds, and the police force was, like, 90% male at that time. It’s more common now, so to write about her now is a little difficult. You do not realize how the world has changed in 20 years. You do not. Trust me.
R: I don’t know if you’d describe yourself as a feminist, but is gender equality something you try to advocate through your writing?
MM: Absolutely. I don’t know how any career woman could not be a feminist.

18 comments:

  1. Thanks TracyK - I have yet to track down any of her work so this really should spur me on as I really like the sound of it (I avoided reading too much of your plot bits though) :)

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    1. I understand, Sergio, I like to know as little about the plot as possible when I read a book. Hope you find some of her books. Except for the first one I have paid more than I wanted to for these books. Have to find some less expensive copies of the remaining books.

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  2. An interesting book, I love getting into series from back then.........err more truthfully I love buying up series books and then forgetting to read then, distracted as I am by other series..........looks good though - is it a long one? (Book and series)

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    1. Col, thanks for asking about the length, because that is one of the best features. This one was about 190 pages, I think the rest are between 200 and 250 pages. The series is just eight books.

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  3. Tracy - A lot of people like the Deborah Knott series better than the Sigrid Harald series, and I see its appeal. But I like the rather traditional whodunit qualities of the Harald series. I also like Maron's writing style a lot. I'm glad you enjoyed this one.

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    1. Margot, you hit it on the head. Traditional qualities, but set in the big city and a more modern setting.

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  4. I love the older books, too, and guess what? I finally got past chapter one in THE BIG SLEEP by Raymond Chandler. Ok, back to the review. Thanks for the reminder because I have this one. I didn't know you reviewed the first one in the serie so I will check it out.

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    1. Keishon, I am glad you are making progress with The Big Sleep. I have got to try another Chandler book soon. I hope you like Death of a Butterfly when you read it.

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  5. This one sounds really good. I tend to skip past the mysteries written around then, so I'm thinking I need to expand my horizons a bit.

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    1. Ryan, I like mysteries written in this period because I like the lack of technology. Makes for a change.

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  6. I've read and enjoyed several Deborah Knott books, but never found the earlier books in my library, so i just didn't read them.

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    1. Kathy, I never thought about these books being hard to find in a library, but I guess it makes sense. If you like the Deborah Knott series, you might not like these as well. They are very different.

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  7. I really liked the Deborah Knott books, so I think I should try this series too. Thanks for the reminder, Tracy, I haven't thought about Margaret Maron for years. I am way behind in the other series too: I think I read them when we lived in the States - I don't think she is very well known at all here in the UK so I don't come across her here.

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    1. The Sigrid Harald books are definitely worth trying, Moira. And I am going to take a stab again at the Deborah Knott series just because I might have initially rejected them because of the setting in the southern US.

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  8. TracyK,
    I was fascinated by this post, and was reminded by what I find gratifying about Sue Grafton's early work. It's Grafton's sense of the social mores (morays) of the 1980s. It makes me remember, and realize how far we've come AND what we've lost. I'm interested in this series, and thank you for writing about it.
    Judith

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    1. Judith, the series does cover this time and the attitudes well. I never had to deal with that kind of working environment even at that time, but yes, things have changed a lot.

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  9. Tracy, although my reading of novels and short stories by women authors has gone up, I haven't read crime fiction with women protagonists; it's a gap I need to fill. So no surprises for my ignorance about Margaret Maron and her work.

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    1. That is interesting, Prashant. I agree, you should try some crime fiction with female protagonists. Variety is the spice of life... and reading.

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