When I met Margaret Maron at Bouchercon in Raleigh in October, 2015, I not only had a fan girl moment, I announced to her that I was having a fan girl moment. She laughed and took my hand and told me how pleased she was to meet me. Maybe she said that to all the writers, but she made me believe it.
Though she was Guest of Honor that year at the largest U.S. mystery writers’ conference and her many fans were circling, she made me feel like I was the only person she cared to speak with in that moment. We chatted for several minutes, and I left her side with not a doubt in my mind why she was so beloved in the mystery writing community.
Margaret Maron died on February 23, at the age of 82, leaving her husband, a son, a sister and two grandchildren, among other kin. She also is survived by an enormous family of fans.
Her stellar work will endure—two series that feature smart, tough-minded, grounded women. Ten books have as their protagonist a female NYPD homicide detective named Sigrid Harald. Twenty others feature Sigrid’s fictional cousin, Judge Deborah Knott of (imagined) Colleton County, North Carolina, a brilliant yet down-to-earth judge whose enormous extended family figures into every storyline. Maybe it’s because I’m a lawyer, but I love that series especially.
Bootlegger’s Daughter, the first Deborah Knott novel, won every major mystery writing award in 1992—the Edgar, Anthony, Agatha and Macavity. Readers fell head over heels for the only daughter of a notorious bootlegger who also had 11 sons. Deborah is salty, savvy and nobody’s fool. Having a legendary local criminal for a father complicates her bid for a judgeship, but the county voters evaluate her on her own terms and (eventually) elect her anyway. Kezzie Knott, her somewhat reformed bootlegger father, plays a role in all of her books, as do her eleven brothers, many sisters in law, deputy sheriff husband and young son. But for the most part, the books are about Deborah’s efforts to do justice in rural communities where the past is yielding to a very different way of life.
Margaret Maron was born in North Carolina and returned there in the 1970s after living with her husband in New York City and Italy. Her deep roots gave her an understanding of her home state and its people, and her time away likely provided the perspective that allowed her to so beautifully capture modern life there, both the good and the bad.
Whether we write cozies, thrillers or something in between, every Margaret Maron book provides all of us with valuable lessons on craft. With well-developed characters, strong, plausible plots and spot-on dialogue, a Margaret Maron book is impossible to put down. I discovered them years before I parked myself in front of a keyboard and began writing my own, and they have informed my work in so many ways. She created worlds in which I wanted to spend time, peopled by characters I’d like to know. She tackled critical issues of our time—race, poverty, addiction, sexual harassment and domestic violence—but never came across as preachy. She wrote with great empathy and power, yet her books were imbued with humor.
The final Deborah Knott book, Long Upon The Land, was published in 2015, the year I met her. She’d announced it would be her last novel—she said she didn’t want to start repeating herself and was “more than done” with deadlines—allowing her fans to brace for the end. The book moves back and forth in time from 1945 to more or less the present, and resolves not only a murder but knits up a few important loose ends for those of us who feel as though we’re personal friends of the Knott clan. I’ll say no more for those of you who’ve not read (or not finished) the series. But for me, Long Upon The Land is a satisfying end to her brilliant career.
If you’d like to read Margaret Maron’s obituary, here’s a link to the one that appeared in the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/02/books/margaret-maron-dead.html
For those who’ve not had the pleasure of reading her books, I urge you to seek them out. They are available wherever books are sold, but I’ll bet she’d be especially grateful if you bought them from a local bookshop rather than a big chain.
Brenda Buchanan is the author of the Joe Gale Mystery Series, featuring a diehard Maine newspaper reporter who covers the crime and courts beat. Three books—QUICK PIVOT, COVER STORY and TRUTH BEAT—are available everywhere e-books are sold. These days she’s hard at work on new projects.