Friday, August 28, 2020

Shooting at Loons: Margaret Maron

Earlier this month I revisited a series that I had tried in 2003 but never returned to. I found the third book in the series, Shooting at Loons, to be a lovely story about life on a small island off the coast of North Carolina and the changes caused by tourism and development.

Judge Deborah Knott is on Harker's Island off the coast of North Carolina for a week, staying in the home of old friends while they are away. She is not there for a vacation; she is substituting for another judge in Beaufort who is in the hospital. She is familiar with the area, and has spent some of her childhood visiting on the island. But she finds that things are changing. There are rivalries between local fishermen wanting to stick with the old ways and developers and ecologists who want to impose rules and limits. And she discovers a dead body  almost as soon as she arrives. 

Margaret Maron's first novel in this series, Bootlegger's Daughter, won the Edgar, Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards for 1992. I read that novel and the second one in 2003, and I did not care for them. Seventeen years later I don't remember exactly why, but I have blamed it on the Southern atmosphere that brings up too many memories. I don't think I cared for the concerned older brothers and father trying to run Deborah Knott's life.

But this book I really enjoyed. The mystery element is light, but the book provides a good picture of a specific area in North Carolina. That is not to say that the mystery is not evident and we are not provided with suspects, motives, etc. It is just that the focus is not so much on the search for the culprit as in other mysteries I have read. The story is told in first person by Deborah Knott. There is plenty of subtle humor. We are privy to her thoughts and inner dialogues. 

There were some scenes with food that evoked fond memories. Especially about eating hush puppies, which is the food of the gods. If you are not familiar with them, hush puppies are small balls of seasoned cornmeal batter, deep-fried and traditionally served with fried catfish (another delicious Southern specialty). 

In some ways this reminded me of a book I read recently by Sharyn McCrumb. In both books there is a murder, but the investigation is mostly behind the scenes. And in both books, environmental concerns play a large part. In this book, it was endangered species; in The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter, it was pollution of a river and the water supply by a large corporation.

I love the cover illustration on this edition. I looked up the artist (Gary Kelley) and he has done some very nice cover illustrations, but not many for mysteries that I could find.

Margaret Maron's first mystery series was the Sigrid Harald books set in New York City. I have read only three of those but I am a big fan of that series. Harald is a NYPD homicide detective, so the mystery in those books is front and center. But there are always side issues going on in Harald's life, too, and she is an interesting character. A good example is Death in Blue Folders.


Publisher:  Mysterious Press, 1994. 
Length:      229 pages
Format:     Hardcover
Series:      Judge Deborah Knott #3
Setting:     North Carolina
Genre:      Mystery
Source:     On my TBR pile for over 15 years.


Rick Robinson said...

I read the first three in this series, and like you found this to be the most enjoyable. Was there on in which an island was struck with a hurricane? For reasons unknown to me I often mis Maron up with Carolun G. Hart. Have you read any of hers?

Food: I grew up in southern California, and ever had - still have not - eaten a hush puppy, nor catfish (nor collard greens, red beans or black-eyed peas). Lots of tacos, enchiladas, enchiritos, burritos, tamales, chimichangas, though. NOW that's heaven on a plate.

And Sharon McCrimb. Are you reading of a time period? I'm thinking McCrumb's books are set in San Francisco, yes?

Rick Robinson said...

No, wait, she's Appalachia. Duh.

TracyK said...

Rick, I have not read anything by Carolyn G. Hart but I have two books of hers from two different series to try, and one standalone novel. All of them I have had a long time.

The McCrumb series I was talking about is Appalachia, but she also wrote Bimbos of the Death Sun and Zombies of the Gene Pool, plus the Elizabeth MacPherson series that seems to set all over the place. I have not read any of the Elizabeth MacPherson series, although I have some, because they have skulls on the cover.

Food: We have a Cajun restaurant here which does really good catfish, other places don't do it right. I haven't had hushpuppies for 40 years. Collard greens and black-eyed peas are also heavenly. Glen makes me his version of Hoppin' John (black-eyed peas, sausage, and rice) but he is from Ohio.

Margot Kinberg said...

You know, I like Margaret Maron's work a lot, Tracy, but I haven't read it in a while. I'm glad you reminded me of it, and of course, I'm glad you enjoyed this novel.

Christophe said...

Glad that this book brought back some good memories, with reading about hush puppies working for you as eating madeleine did for Proust.
And thanks for the reminder to look up "Death in Blue Folders". If the book is as a good as the title, it's a definite winner!

TracyK said...

Margot, I will be reading more by Margaret Maron. I think I first saw info about the Sigrid Harald series at your blog.

TracyK said...

Christophe, I hadn't thought about hushpuppies for years, and it is a taste sensation I will never forget. Too high fat of course.

So far, I consider the Sigrid Harald my favorite of the two series, but I think I will enjoy continuing both of them.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think I have only read the first in the series. Can't remember if I liked it or not.

Cath said...

What a gorgeous cover. I don't know this series at all but this 3rd. book appeals to me I must say. I think though that the first two might annoy me for the same reasons as you.

TracyK said...

Patti, many of the reviews noted the lack of depth in the mystery plot. That did not bother me, although the resolution is sort of abrupt. I enjoyed reading about life (and conflict) on the island. So I am hoping I will like later books in the series.

TracyK said...

Cath, I think you could start the series at this point. I don't even remember the first two books, except that she was a judge and at odds with her family about it. I am sure some readers would disagree with me. And it could even work just as a standalone for a book for North Carolina for the USA challenge.

Katrina said...

I love the cover too, and the fact that a body is found almost immediately. I suspect this book will prove difficult to track down in the UK but I'll look out for it.

TracyK said...

You are probably right, Katrina. There are a lot of older (and newer, for that matter) series from the UK that I have a hard time locating. It is unfortunate. The cover is lovely, I actually found another book I have with cover illustration by this author, but not quite as nice as this.

col2910 said...

Probably one I don't feel inclined to try. Sorry!

TracyK said...

You are right, Col. After reading this one, I would not be inclined to recommend it to you, although I enjoyed it. Maybe later books in the series are less cozyish, who knows?