MARGARET MARON – Shooting at Loons. Deborah Knott #3. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1994; paperback, 1995.

   Maron swept the 1992 mystery awards with Bootlegger’s Daughter, the first in the Judge Deborah Knott series, though it remains to be seen if the second, Southern Discomfort, will win any. For reasons known only to the MWA, it didn’t even make the 1993 Edgar short list. Maron’s earlier stories of policewoman Sigrid Harald were good, but the voice she has found with the Knott books is excellent.

   Deborah Knott, lady Judge, is far from her normal stomping grounds, filling in at coastal Beaufort near North Carolina’s Outer Banks. She’s staying in a cousin’s cottage there, and is quickly involved in the area’s complicated politics when she discovers the murdered body of a local fisherman who headed up an independent fisherman’s association.

   The region is a hotbed of politics, with small island fishers, commercial fishers, environmentalists, and developers at each other’s throats. She’s drawn further into the mess by a local developer’s pressures on the wife of a fellow judge to sell the family’s commercial fishing business.

   I keep waiting for Maron to stub her toe with this series, but she hasn’t done it yet. Once again she has combined background, character, and crime into an excellent story. Deborah Knott is one of the best realized protagonists to grace crime fiction in recent years, and Maron is without superior in her use of locale as a backdrop.

   Her characters are her strength, but almost as refreshing to me is her ability to keep her heroine as the center of the story without resorting to the unrealistic contrivances used by so many other authors, I hate to gush, but I just didn’t find anything at all to dislike here, except that it was too short. Or maybe it wasn’t; I was left wanting more, and maybe that’s how it should be.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #13, June 1994.

AWARDS UPDATE:   As Barry pointed out, Bootlegger’s Daughter was the Agatha Award Best Novel winner (1992), the Anthony Awards Best Novel winner (1993) a Dilys Awards Best Book nominee (1993), the Edgar Awards Best Novel winner (1993), and the Macavity Awards Best Novel winner (1993). Southern Discomfort was an Agatha Award Best Novel nominee (1993).