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Christmas Mourning (Deborah Knott Series #16)

Christmas Mourning (Deborah Knott Series #16)

4.0 40
by Margaret Maron

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

"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."
Marilyn Stasio
Maron sensitively juxtaposes the dual customs that sustain the Knotts and their neighbors during this bittersweet holiday season.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
The death of Mallory Johnson, a popular high school cheerleader, in a suspicious car crash propels Edgar-winner Maron's satisfying 16th Deborah Knott mystery (after 2009's Sand Sharks). While Deborah, a Colleton County, N.C., judge, and her huge clan are preparing for a big North Carolina Christmas, her husband, chief deputy Dwight Bryant, looks into the shooting of two trailer-park brothers. Deborah's countless nieces and nephews pop up frequently, and Deborah, with her realistic and appealing combination of common sense and a sharp ear, pulls clues from the kids' random comments. Mallory's less popular half-brother, her slighted best friend, and all the boys she toyed with are all possible bad guys, though how the one-car accident was orchestrated is a mystery in itself. As usual, interludes with relatives overshadow the investigating, but of course the warm and authentic family relationships are the heart of this evergreen series. (Nov.)
Associated Press Staff
"[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."
From the Publisher
"[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

"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."

Publishers Weekly

Library Journal
As Christmas approaches, series regular North Carolina judge Deborah Knott (Sand Sharks) investigates a car crash that killed a popular young woman, racing against the clock to solve what might not have been an accident. A solid choice for Maron's many fans. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ 7/10.]
Kirkus Reviews

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.

Product Details

Grand Central Publishing
Publication date:
Deborah Knott Series , #16
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.20(w) x 6.80(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Christmas Mourning

By Maron, Margaret

Grand Central Publishing

Copyright © 2010 Maron, Margaret
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780446555807


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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Margaret Maron grew up on a farm near Raleigh and lived in Brooklyn for many years. Returning to her North Carolina roots prompted Margaret to write a series based on her own background, the first of which, BOOTLEGGER'S DAUGHTER, was a Washington Post bestseller and swept the major mystery awards for 1993. CHRISTMAS MOURNING is the sixteenth book in the acclaimed Deborah Knott series. Visit her website at margaretmaron.com.

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Christmas Mourning 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 40 reviews.
The_Reading_Reviewer More than 1 year ago
It has been a year of non-stop change for Judge Deborah Knott and her husband the Colleton County Sherriff's Deputy Dwight Bryant. They are about to celebrate their first anniversary and finally have Dwight's son Cal settled into living with them after the tragedy of losing his mother. But this homey scene is rocked when Mallory, a popular teenager dies in a tragic car accident. Leaving too many questions and no answers in what should be an open and shut case. Questions start popping up when Mallory's last voice mail to her brother plays out the final moments of her life in too real detail. The suspicion that she might have been drinking escalates into fact which causes escalation that she had been drugged since Mallory may have flirted with the boys she was not a girl known to walk against the grain and never drank alcohol. So Dwight starts digging deeper into the situation and without a day gone by two more bodies turn up and this time their cause of death is obvious - gun shots straight on. These brothers were always on the wrong side of the law but what could have caused them to have been so brutally murdered? Is this case related to the traffic accident? What is it that Mallory's family is not telling him that might be at the core of the problem? Too many questions and no one is saying a word, this definitely is not the way to kick off the holiday season that is for sure. Dwight is tenacious, Deborah is a snoop and family is determined to find out what happened and hopefully resolving these crimes will not lead to anymore but it is not looking good. But what is going on at the house is another head scratcher? All of Deborah's nieces and nephews keep showing up at odd times, with strange explanations and even wilder more unbelievable tales to explain their presence at the house. Hopefully nothing catches on fire this year! This series always brings to the reader a mystery, family drama and shenanigans plus some wonderful romance between Dwight and Deborah. Another year has produced another winner in this series and as always with Ms. Maron's work you have to get to the end of the book to know who done it! Margaret Maron leaves lots of clues but always throws in a curve to make sure you are paying attention. Thank you again for writing such a great series that everyone will enjoy.
Heart2Heart More than 1 year ago
Mallory Johnson had everything a high school senior could possibly want. She's beautiful, popular, and captain of the cheer leading squad to name just a few. Yet she refuses to commit to just one guy and instead has fun flirting with anyone who is interested. One dark day in the life of the Johnson family finds life for them has completely changed when Mallory is involved in a car crash that takes her life just days before Christmas. Suddenly the wealthy family has nothing left but each other to hold on to. All they want is answers to how she died. They are willing to stop at nothing no matter what the cost to learn just what happened to their daughter. Dwight Bryant works for the Sheriff's department and in the process of investigating Mallory's death he too has some unanswered questions. How does a girl lose her life after rolling her vehicle over on a straight stretch of road with only a single set of skid marks? What happened that night to Mallory Johnson? In the latest mystery novel by Margaret Maron, Christmas Mourning, takes the reader on a criminal investigation into the death of Mallory Johnson in a small town that wants answers before another teen loses their lives on the same stretch of road. I received this novel compliments of Hachette Book Groups for my honest review. I can honestly say at first the book was difficult to understand the many characters you encounter within the first couple of chapters however Margaret Maron does offer a family tree to help the reader understand the close ties of the families involved. Yet by the middle of the book, you are on the ride of your life as your take unexpected twists and turns in trying to solve the case. I would easily rate this book a 4.5 out of 5 stars.
harstan More than 1 year ago
It has been nearly a year since Colleton County, North Carolina Judge Deborah Knott married Sheriff's Deputy Dwight Bryant and both have never been happier. They have full custody of his son Carl since his mother died and Deborah is a like a second mom to the youngster. However, the Christmas season brings sorrow to one family when in-crowd leader Mallory Johnson dies in a car crash. She neither drank nor took drugs, but after leaving a party, Mallory skidded off the road. Alcohol is found in her bloodstream and a friend confesses that she put booze and vicodin in a coke. She blames herself for the death of Mallory, who was a tease. However, evidence surfaces that imply the Mickey Finn might not have caused the death. Dwight is workingon a case where Deborah two brothers who were shot to death. It comes as a shock that the three deaths are linked, but to understand how will lead to identifying the killer in both cases. Margaret Maron can always be counted on for writing a strong regional mystery that brings the reader into the story line. Christmas Mourning contains a complex whodunit complemented by a profound realistic family drama, especially the deep look at the two families impacted by the deaths. This Knott-Bryant murder mystery is worthy of an Agatha nomination. Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just did not like this book. Too much description of scenery.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
First book read by this author. Will definitely read more!
MaryG2 More than 1 year ago
I am a big fan of the Debra Knott series. One problem with a long series is that the stories can get predictable or stale. Not so here. The beginning is sad, but a common happening in our culture, the death of a young girl while driving and using her cell. The ending comes as a surprise, although it was hinted at cleverly. You have to be careful though with Margaret Maron, she throws things out that keep you thinking and guessing. I love the characters and the family. It is like coming back to a favorite town to visit and catch up with interesting and smart people. Keep it up Margaret!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have been a fan of the series a long time, and this was another great addition. I love that Dwight and Deborah are now married, and I love when Margaret breaks with the first person sometimes to get a view of Dwight.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Another outstanding example of Margaret Maron's wonderful characters. Judge Deborah Knott deals with problems in the courtroom and tragedies within the community that cast a shadow over the Knott family's preparations for the Christmas holidays. Her nieces and nephews turn to Deborah for answers to unanswerable questions after the death of a popular high school student is quickly followed by the murder of social outcast who had a crush on her. Despite the intense investigation into these deaths, Deborah and Dwight find time to celebrate the first anniversary in delightful style.
SophieCA More than 1 year ago
Excellent read. Maron never fails to keep one interested, and here she has combined here two best characters, Judge Knott and Sigred Harald in a lovely little puzzle. What fun.
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Dollycas More than 1 year ago
This has been one of my favorite series and I enjoy every trip into the world of Deborah Knott. The closeness and trials and tribulations of the whole family dynamic never disappoint. The mystery that tags along is an added bonus. The author is a wonderful storyteller and her characters continue to grown and develop. In this edition it was about the teenagers. I have to say I was very impressed in the way she took on a very relevant teen issue, cell phones and texting. She also makes us aware of dangerous things that can happen at teen parties, stupid pranks can have deadly consequences. She handled them without being preachy, she just put it out there and reminded us all about the dangers. This week the National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that all cell phone use be banned all non-emergency use of cell phones and other portable devices for drivers. This makes this story quite timely. I realize it was published last year but I didn¿t get to it for last year¿s holiday season and saved it for this year and I am glad I did. It helped me to remind my own kids of these dangers. Teenagers always think it can¿t happen to them. In this story it happened to kids that probably felt exactly that way. The mystery was great but the message was gripped me and held me in this story. This is not your typical Christmas story but you knew that from the title. It is an excellent addition to this series.
ShorethingCS More than 1 year ago
I am a Patricia Cornwell fan but was looking for something new along those lines when I decided to try this book.It is great I am now excited about reading the series."Im Hooked"
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nonnie42 More than 1 year ago
I have been reading Margaret's books for years, and eagerly await the next one, but this was so disappointing. It's written with her excellent style and attention to detail, but I feel that the end was cut off in mid-sentence. So sad.