Death's Half Acre

Margaret Maron
2008, Mystery
Grand Central, $24.99, 272 pages, Amazon ASIN 044619610X
Part of a series

Grade: C
Sensuality: N/A

Margaret Maron's Deborah Knott mystery series has been rather uneven for me. Unfortunately, the latest entry is not one of the better books in the series.

Deborah is a judge in a formerly rural part of North Carolina that is now one of the fastest growing in the U.S.. In this latest book, Deborah's fellow residents are struggling with competing demands to preserve the area's rural heritage while also fostering development. At the center of this conflict is the county commission. When the chair, a successful local businesswoman, is murdered, Deborah and her husband, Sheriff's Deputy Dwight Bryant, become involved.

The book gets off to a slow start. The author uses a technique I've found in a number of mysteries in which multiple characters are introduced in the first chapter, with just a page or two devoted to each, something I think of as a character dump. In this case, I was left completely confused - not a good state since I've read most of the previous entries in this series.

One thing I enjoy about this series is the portrayal of Deborah as an intelligent, complete, complex individual. Although she's a judge, her father is a bootlegger and she understands that things aren't always all black or white. Deborah has a complicated, large family, including ten brothers, numerous sister-in-laws, and a number of nieces and nephews, many of whom appear in this book. I made no attempt to keep them straight in my head.

I appreciate the author's vivid descriptions of characters and settings. Several books earlier, Deborah married her longtime friend and his son came to live with them a few books ago when his mother was murdered. Deborah and Dwight's relationship was featured less prominently in this book than in several recent entries and, while I enjoyed what is told from Deborah's perspective, I found the sections featuring various secondary characters to be less compelling. I would have liked more focus on Deborah and Dwight.

I enjoyed the minor courtroom scenes. Although not directly related to the mystery, they helped reinforce the book's central conflict between sudden growth and rural life and also provide a great feel for what Deborah is like as a judge and a person.

The primary mystery ended rather abruptly, but the book continued on in lackluster fashion wrapping up several subplots that didn't directly involve either Deborah or Dwight. While not a bad read, I've definitely enjoyed other books in the series more.

-- LinnieGayl Kimmel

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