Friday, May 31, 2013

Margaret Maron, THE BUZZARD TABLE: Crafted by a Grand Master

THE BUZZARD TABLE is the 18th of Margaret Maron's Judge Deborah Knott mysteries, and a crackling good one. Series followers will grab and gobble; for me, the book was a reliable treat, waiting for a calm moment when I could just keep on reading . . . I knew I wouldn't want to put this down very often.

And that's what it is for a writer to become a Grand Master. There are a goodly number of these strong, steady authors who know pace and character the way they know breakfast, and who braid unexpected strands and glittering red herrings like extra courses of dinner. But Maron's writing is more than this -- she is a recognized Grand Master, thanks to her 2013 Edgar Award, as well as recognized in her home state of North Carolina, where she sets much of her writing. And she has the patience to work with a story until its layers are satisfying and rich. Without carrying the metaphor too far, I could say Maron knows her workroom and insists on making the dish come out right.

In this case, Deborah Knott, judge in Colleton County and married for a long time to Sheriff's Deputy Dwight Bryant, isn't as young or adventurous as she once was. Her life balance is now heavier on wisdom and experience. But there are still things that take her into new terrain, like the unexpected reactions she's getting from her young stepson, Cal -- whose mother is dead. She's also puzzled by a visitor to the area, a long-lost cousin of the dying Mrs. Lattimore (that scent in the air is money, plus jewels). Cousin Martin Crawford is an ornithologist. Prickly and defensive, he's set up a "feeding table" for buzzards. Just for photographs -- or for other reasons?

And there is the disturbing core of what's going on in Colleton County: Who's waiting to feed off what corpses, and why?

Deborah's interest in the situation is supplemented by that of her husband Dwight, and by Sigrid Harald, an investigative lieutenant from New York and the granddaughter of the soon-to-be-late Mrs. Lattimore. Dwight and Sigrid get their own chances to narrate the action, but most of the insight and control are in Deborah's voice and view. Maron readers will recognize Sigrid from her own series, btu this book is great as a stand-alone -- you don't need to be caught up on any of Maron's long-standing narrative strands to enjoy THE BUZZARD'S TABLE.

Maron writes traditional mysteries -- death happens, but there are no interludes inside the minds of deviants, and the solution, when it comes, is the result of skilled people working hard to uncover the disturbing secrets around them that may have led to violence. I found the conclusion well crafted and appropriate -- then was haunted afterward by a few provocative strands of moral doubt that Maron leaves dangling.

I'm shelving this one on the "read it again" shelf, and look forward to working back through some of the earlier Maron titles, as well as the ones yet to come.

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