The New York Times
Christmas Mourning (Deborah Knott Series #16)by Margaret Maron
It's Christmas in rural North Carolina's Colleton County and Judge Deborah Knott is looking forward to a family celebration when a tragedy clouds the holiday season. A beautiful young cheerleader dies in a car crash and the community is devastated by her death. Sheriff's Deputy Dwight Bryant soon learns that her death was not a simple accident, and more lives may be… See more details below
- Checkmark The Holidays Can Be Murder Shop Now
It's Christmas in rural North Carolina's Colleton County and Judge Deborah Knott is looking forward to a family celebration when a tragedy clouds the holiday season. A beautiful young cheerleader dies in a car crash and the community is devastated by her death. Sheriff's Deputy Dwight Bryant soon learns that her death was not a simple accident, and more lives may be lost unless he and Deborah can discover why she died.
The New York Times
"[Maron] skillfully portrays the growing tension between family farmers and suburbanites. As always Maron weaves in a couple of subplots that keep things interesting and allow her to touch on a range of social issues."
"Maron's trademark warm humor and Deborah's and Dwight's loving kinfolk leaven the tragedy to make this sixteenth in the series another winning entry and a fine holiday mystery."
"[Maron] skillfully portrays the growing tension between family farmers and suburbanites. As always Maron weaves in a couple of subplots that keep things interesting and allow her to touch on a range of social issues."Associated Press
On CHRISTMAS MOURNING
"Maron makes you yearn to belong to an extended family, bake Christmas cookies with the Knott nieces and nephews and climb into Dwight's arms. She plots like a modern-day Christie, but the North Carolina charm is all her own."Kirkus"
Warm and authentic family relationships are the heart of this evergreen series."
The even darker aftermath to the accident that claims the life of a Colleton County teen.
Mallory Johnson, homecoming queen, honor student, irresistible flirt and drug- and alcohol-free paragon, crashes her car and dies. Then her secrets begin to come out. The autopsy finds a drug in her system. When Sheriff's Deputy Dwight Bryant begins investigating, he learns that the much-beloved Mallory had a few detractors, including her half brother Charlie and all the girls in town whose boyfriends she dallied with. And then the no-account Wentworth brothers, Jason and Matt, are gunned down at their trailer. Are the deaths connected? Mallory's poor mom, who lost her first husband to a fall while he was fixing the roof, is devastated, but Malcolm, her second husband, is truly overcome: His "princess" is gone. Meanwhile, Christmas, a mere two days away, will bring the one-year anniversary of Dwight's marriage to Judge Deborah Knott. But their celebration will have to wait till Mallory's last cell message is studied, a cheerleader's mea culpa is scrutinized and Charlie is tracked down at his birth father's house. The resolution adds one more fatality to the mix and upgrades an accident to murder.
Maron (Sand Sharks, 2009, etc.) makes you yearn to belong to an extended family, bake Christmas cookies with the Knott nieces and nephews and climb into Dwight's arms. She plots like a modern-day Christie, but the North Carolina charm is all her own.
Read an Excerpt
By Maron, Margaret
Grand Central PublishingCopyright © 2010 Maron, Margaret
All right reserved.
Marley was dead to begin with.
—A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
“—which means I can usually adjourn around five o’clock. After that, I may have to sign some judgments or search warrants or other documents, but most days I’m done by five or five-thirty.” I made a show of looking at my watch. Although I had ninety seconds left of the five minutes I’d been allotted, it was chilly here in the gym and my toes felt frozen. I smiled at the high school freshmen, who sat on tiered benches beneath secular swags of fake evergreens tied with red plastic ribbons, and gestured to the tables over by the far wall. “So I’ll adjourn for now and be back there if you have any questions.”
There was polite applause as I yielded the microphone to a nurse-practitioner from the new walk-in clinic that had recently opened up in a shopping center that sprawled around one of I-40’s exits here in the county.
It was Thursday afternoon, the day before the beginning of their Christmas—oops! Winter—break.
(Political correctness has finally, begrudgingly, arrived in Colleton County. Forty percent of our population call themselves Christian, and at least sixty percent of those write alarmist letters to the editor every year claiming that Christ is being dissed by the ten percent who check off “other” when polled about religious beliefs.)
Today was Career Day at West Colleton High, and I was the sixth of seven speakers that the principal, who’s also my mother-in-law, hoped would inspire these way-too-cool-to-look-interested students. My name card—District Court Judge Deborah Knott—was on one of the long tables that lined the end wall, and I sat down beside my husband, whose own name card read Major Dwight Bryant, Chief Deputy, Colleton County Sheriff’s Department.
He can’t say no to his mother either.
My only props were a brass-bound wooden gavel, a thick law book, some gavel-headed personalized pencils left over from my last campaign, a summary of the education needed to become an attorney before running for the bench, and a list of the more common infractions of the law that a district court judge might rule on.
Dwight’s array was much more impressive: a pair of handcuffs, a nightstick, a gold badge, a Kevlar vest, and an empty pistol with a locked trigger guard just to be on the safe side. He also had a stack of flyers that outlined requirements for joining the sheriff’s department.
“The way the county’s growing, we keep needing new recruits,” he said when Miss Emily asked us to do this shortly after Thanksgiving.
That sneaky lady had invited us over for Sunday dinner and then softened us up with fried chicken, tender flaky biscuits, and a melt-in-your-mouth coconut cream pie. I don’t know what she had to do to get the chief of the West Colleton Volunteer Fire Department to come, but it’s a good thing that my handouts take up a minimal amount of space. Between his hazmat suit and fire axe and Dwight’s show-and-tell, there was no room for anything else.
I felt a hand on my shoulder and looked up to see one of my eleven older brothers. Zach is next to me in age, the second-born of the “little twins” and five down from the “big twins” produced in Daddy’s first marriage. Zach is also an assistant principal here at West Colleton.
“Good job,” he said, handing me a welcome cup of steaming hot coffee. “Thanks for coming.”
“No problem,” I said.
Dwight had already emptied his own coffee cup, but he took a swallow of mine when offered. Sometimes I think he should just open a vein and mainline his caffeine. “I sure hope some of these kids will fill out an application form for us in three or four years,” he told Zach.
“I got dibs on the Turner boy,” said the fire chief. His big hand almost hid a clear plastic bottle of water and he drained it in two gulps. “His brother Donny’s unit left for Iraq last week, but little Jeb there’s already turning out with us on weekends.”
I remembered Donny Turner from the church burnings summer before last and said a silent prayer for all the kids who have gone to the Middle East these past few years. One glance at Dwight’s face and I knew he was thinking of the young deputy who’d signed on for a tour with one of the private security companies there. To lighten the moment, I said, “I guess I’ll get nothing but bad jokes if I say that some of them could wind up going to law school.”
Zach grinned. “Adam e’d me a good one this morning.”
Adam’s his twin out in California and I was sure he’d emailed me the same joke. I sighed and rolled my eyes, but there was no stopping Zach.
“A lawyer telephones the governor’s mansion just after midnight and says he’s got to talk to the governor right away. So the aide wakes up the governor, who says, ‘What’s so damn urgent it can’t wait till morning?’
“ ‘Judge Smith just died,’ says the attorney, ‘and I’d like to take his place.’
“The governor yawns and says—”
“Yeah, yeah,” I said, stomping on his punch line. “ ‘If it’s okay with the undertaker, it’s okay with me.’ ”
Zach’s grin widened; Dwight and the chief tried to keep their laughs down in deference to the last speaker at the front of the gym, but it was a struggle for both of them.
Rednecks, lawyers, and blondes. The only safe butts left. My hair is more light brown than dandelion gold (thank you, Jesus!), so I don’t have to wince at all the dumb-blonde lawyer jokes. You’d be surprised how many there are.
“Did I tell you, Dwight?” said the fire chief. “That warm spell last week? We got a call from one of them new houses out your way about hazardous fumes.”
Hazardous fumes in our neighborhood? My head came up on that one.
“Yeah,” said the chief. “We suited up and went rolling out. Thing is, that’s the first time the wind had blown from that particular direction since them new folks moved in.”
“Jeeter Langdon’s hog farm?” Dwight asked.
The chief chuckled. “You got it.”
Back at the podium, the nurse-practitioner finished her spiel and headed for her spot at the next table. The school’s guidance counselor took the mike and instructed the students to use the rest of the period to learn more about our varied professions.
The kids streamed off the bleachers. All were on the right side of the dress code, but just barely. The boys’ jeans were loose and baggy; the girls’ had not an extra millimeter of denim, although today’s icy December chill had put them all in hoodies and fleecy sweatshirts or sweaters.
My brother Andrew’s daughter Ruth and her cousin Richard, Seth and Minnie’s youngest child, were both in the stands and both had given me a thumbs-up when our eyes met earlier in the period, but neither of them would be over to our tables for career suggestions. Last year when the family met to discuss the future of the land we owned, Richard had announced that he for one was going to stay right there and farm, while Ruth planned to open a stable with Richard’s sister Jessica. Both girls have been crazy about horses since they were lifted into a saddle as toddlers.
The first to reach us was a white boy with spiked hair and clear plastic retainers where his forbidden eyebrow and nose rings would normally ride. “Were you ever on Court TV?”
I shook my head and started to explain the difference between reality shows and reality, but he had already moved on to Dwight.
Picking up the handgun and hefting it with more familiarity than you like to see in a boy that age, he said, “So like how many guys have you shot?”
A tattooed green viper circled his wrist and stretched its triangular head across the back of his hand. Judging by his stubbly chin, he was probably closer to sixteen than the average freshman and had probably been left back a time or two. With a better haircut and no facial piercings, he would have been a good-looking kid—clear green eyes and smooth, acne-free skin most teenage girls would kill for.
“What’s your name, son?” Dwight asked mildly as he reached out to reclaim the weapon.
The boy clearly wanted to wise off, but with Zach looking on, he released his hold on the gun and muttered, “Matt Wentworth.”
Dwight lifted an eyebrow at that name. “Any kin to Tig Wentworth?”
“My uncle,” he admitted, realizing that we must know Tig Wentworth was currently over in Central Prison, serving a life sentence for the first-degree murder of his stepfather-in-law.
By their fruits ye shall know them.
Here in Colleton County, apples still don’t roll very far from the tree, and among Cotton Grove natives the Wentworths were well known as a violent family, root and stock, for several generations back. Hux Wentworth, this boy’s oldest brother, had been killed in a home invasion, and now that I was reminded, I was pretty sure that another brother—Jack? Jay? No, Jason. That was his name.
Our little weekly, the Cotton Grove Clarion, had used his arrest and conviction as a lead-in to an article on violations of hunting regulations. Jason Wentworth had been brought up before me back around Halloween for jacklighting deer, i.e., illegally hunting them at night with a powerful spotlight that would temporarily blind them and keep them immobile long enough to get off a shot. I had fined him and, as the law requires, made him forfeit both his rifle and his hunting license. The odds were three to one that I’d be seeing this kid in court before he graduated.
If he graduated.
Just before the bell rang to end the period, Miss Emily came bustling through the gym doors and paused to answer her pager. I’m always amazed that this small wiry woman who barely tops five feet is the mother of Dwight and his sister Nancy Faye, who are both built like their tall, big-boned daddy, a farmer who was killed in a tractor accident when they were children. Dwight’s brother Rob and their other sister Beth got Miss Emily’s slender build along with her red hair and green eyes. Normally, Miss Emily’s a force of nature, and there was no hesitation on the part of the school board to make her principal of West Colleton and its two thousand-plus students when this shiny new complex replaced rickety old Zachary Taylor High, where Dwight and I had gone to school.
But as she clipped the pager back in its case, she looked suddenly tired and drained and, for the first time, almost old. Her eyes were bright with unshed tears by the time she reached our table and looked at Dwight with anguish.
“They just called,” she told him. “The Johnson girl died.”
Excerpted from Christmas Mourning by Maron, Margaret Copyright © 2010 by Maron, Margaret. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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