The New York Times
High Country Fall (Deborah Knott Series #10)by Margaret Maron
North Carolina judge Deborah Knott may be all business when it comes to court, but she's usually fun loving when she's around her energetic family and her friend turned fiance Dwight Bryant. The stress of her impending marriage has made her prickly and uneasy, though, so she jumps at the chance to sub for a judge in another part of the state. After all, what better place to do serious thinking about her life than a gorgeous tourist town in the Blue Ridge Mountains? Unfortunately, the town is abuzz with the recent murder of a local doctor, and the accused is a friend of Deborah's college-age twin nieces. The twins are convinced their friend is innocent, and when another man is found dead, it begins to appear they are right. The mountain setting plays a huge role here, and Maron does a beautiful job with it, adding local color, as well as delightful regionalisms, to give her characters plenty of personality. When it comes right down to it, however, it's the comfortable ordinariness of Maron's distinctively unheroic heroine that makes this entry in the long-running series so appealing
The New York Times
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High Country Fall
By Margaret Maron
Mysterious PressCopyright © 2004 Margaret Maron
All right reserved.
The trouble with making a public announcement is that the public-in this case, my family-feels entitled to respond. Not only to respond, but to exclaim, to criticize, and, above all, to offer comments and advice. The tom-toms, the grapevine, and yes, the Internet, too, were all working overtime.
From my four brothers who live out of state, to the other seven and their spouses still here in eastern North Carolina-not to mention a slew of aunts, uncles, and cousins all up and down the Atlantic seaboard-half the country seemed to be showering advice on my head.
Real showers, as well.
It was early October, three days after I'd begun wearing the ring that once belonged to Dwight Bryant's grandmother; two days after we'd told a couple of friends and both our families that we were planning a Christmas wedding.
I'm a district court judge here in Colleton County. Dwight is Sheriff Bo Poole's right hand and head of Bo's detective division, someone who's known me since the day Daddy piled all the boys who happened to be in the yard at the time into the back of his pickup and hauled them over to the hospital to meet their new sister. Dwight's always thought that gave him the right to act like one of my brothers, too. One of my bossy brothers.
We've both been married and divorced and-
Well, his marriage ended in divorce. Mine was merely annulled. (It was years before I learned that Daddy could have saved on lawyer's fees since I'd inadvertently married a hound dog who was already legally married at the time.) Dwight has a little boy up in Virginia; I sublimate with a bunch of nieces and nephews.
I had sworn off men at the beginning of summer, and after yet another relationship went sour on him, too, Dwight proposed that we quit looking for nonexistent soul mates and turn our solid friendship into marriage. That was less than two weeks ago and it seemed like a good idea at first, especially since it turned out that we were surprisingly solid in bed.
With all the hoopla after we announced it, though, I was starting to have second thoughts.
My family's so crazy about Dwight that you'd have thought someone had handed me a cool ten million and it was their duty to help me invest it before I threw it all on the nearest bonfire.
Take Aunt Sister, who about hugged the breath out of me the first time she saw me after hearing the news. "Thank God in glory! I thought you won't never going to settle down before I died." She looked at me dubiously. "You do aim to settle down, don't you?", which I think is a little sanctimonious for a woman who spends four months a year on the road in a Winnebago now that Uncle Rufus is retired.
Then there's Nadine, my brother Herman's wife, who belongs to a strict fundamentalist church and has never quite approved of me. "Of course, you can't wear white, but there're lots of pretty dresses in off-white."
"Oh, nobody worries about stuff like that anymore," said April, my brother Andrew's third-time-lucky try at marriage.
Aunt Zell, my mother's sister, couldn't stop beaming. "Now I know you have Sue's silver, crystal, and china," she said, "so why don't I give you a linen shower?"
"And I'll do lingerie," said Portland Brewer, my best friend and prospective matron of honor despite her advancing pregnancy. (Some of my brothers were making book on whether or not she'd deliver before the wedding.) "Black satin teddies. Red silk panties!"
"Kitchen goods!" said Mae and Doris.
"Well, what about ol' Dwight?" said their husbands. "Maybe we oughta give him a tool shower."
"So romantic," sighed my nieces. "All these years of catting around with other guys, then bang!" They had taken to singing parodies of "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man" every time they saw me.
Maidie, Daddy's longtime housekeeper, was writing out family recipes for my edification and Dwight's well-being; while John Claude Lee and Reid Stephenson, my cousins and former law partners, were talking about a formal announcement dance at the Colleton County Country Club in Dobbs.
Dwight's mother, his two sisters, and his sister-in-law had already booked a luncheon date at the University Club in Raleigh for all the women in both families.
Even Daddy. He didn't say much, but his blue eyes twinkled whenever someone mentioned the wedding.
Dwight just laughed and took it all in stride.
I was starting to freak.
"They act like this is the love match of the century instead of a sensible arrangement," I told Minnie.
Minnie is married to my brother Seth. She's also my campaign manager. It was Minnie who advised me that it would be politically expedient to quit looking for the moon and settle down with someone respectably earthbound instead. She was surprised as hell that I'd taken her advice and as pleased as the rest that the someone turned out to be Dwight Bryant.
"Won't hurt you at the polls to be married to a well-regarded deputy sheriff like Dwight," she said, but when she started cooing like our nieces, I immediately disillusioned her.
"Romantic love has nothing to do with this," I told her. "It's pure pragmatism. Sure, we're fond of each other, but it's love based on friendship and mutual history, not romance. He's as tired of channel surfing as I am, so it just makes sense."
"Oh, honey," Minnie said, looking bereft. "No real passion?"
"I didn't say there was no passion," I told her, unable to repress a grin.
"Well, thank goodness for that much," she said, smiling back.
"But it's turning into a three-ring circus. Even at the courthouse. Clerks go out of their way to stop me in the halls and tell me how nice Dwight is. Like he's got a halo and they don't think I'm good enough for him. It's bad enough that Aunt Sister and Nadine and Doris think like that, I don't need it at work, too. Paul Archdale even had the nerve to ask me if I was letting personal considerations color my judgment when Dwight testified against his client this afternoon."
"Of course not," I huffed. "Paul knows his client's guilty as sin. He was just trying to get a lighter sentence. I may be thinking about marrying Dwight, but that doesn't mean I've quit thinking."
"Dwight's ring on your finger means you're more than just thinking about it," Minnie said gently.
We both glanced down at the ring, an old-fashioned square-cut diamond flanked by two smaller stones. I pulled it off and balanced it on the palm of my hand, where it gleamed and shot out sparks of color in the sunshine.
"I don't know, Minnie. I'm beginning to think this marriage is going to cause more problems than it'll solve."
"No, it won't," she soothed. "You and Dwight will be good for each other, and it would embarrass him to death if you back out now, so you put that ring right back on your finger where it belongs. A lot of people care about both of you, so the two of y'all getting together's bound to be a nine-days' wonder. They'll settle down once they get used to the idea."
"Another week?" I asked glumly. "I don't know if I can take it."
Happily, I didn't have to.
That very evening, there was a message from Roger Longmire, Chief District Court Judge in our district. When I returned his call, he said, "Got anything sensitive or pressing on your calendar?"
"Not that I know of," I told him.
"Good. I've been asked if I could spare someone to hold court up in Cedar Gap."
"Here am I, Lord, send me," I said prayerfully. Cedar Gap is 'way the other side of the state, a good five- or six-hour drive from Colleton County.
Longmire snorted. He knows the Bible even better than I do. "When did you turn into Isaiah?"
"The minute you offered me a legitimate reason to head for the hills."
"Getting a little hot for you down here in the flatlands?"
Was that a chuckle in his voice? I considered for a moment. "Minnie called you, didn't she?"
"Good woman, your sister-in-law," he said blandly. "I owe her a lot. Did you know she was head of the Colleton County Democratic Women the first year I ran for the bench?"
Excerpted from High Country Fall by Margaret Maron Copyright © 2004 by Margaret Maron . 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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Meet the Author
MARGARET MARON grew up in the country near Raleigh, North Carolina, but for many years lived in Brooklyn, New York. When she and her artist husband returned to the farm that had been in her family for a hundred years, she began a series based on her own background. The first book, Bootlegger's Daughter, became a Washington Post bestseller that swept the major mystery awards for its year-winning the Edgar, Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity Awards for Best Novel-and is among the 100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century as selected by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association. Later Deborah Knott novels Up Jumps the Devil, Storm Track, and Three-Day Town each also won the Agatha Award for Best Novel. Margaret is also the author of the Sigrid Harald series of detective novels. In 2008, Maron received the North Carolina Award for Literature, the highest civilian honor the state bestows on its authors. And in 2013, the Mystery Writers of America celebrated Maron's contributions to the mystery genre by naming her a Grand Master-an honor first bestowed on Agatha Christie. To find out more about her, you can visit MargaretMaron.com.
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