Old Friends, Bookends…


I am filling in the blanks in the Deborah Knott books on my shelves, mysteries by Margaret Maron about a feisty female judge in the hills of North Carolina.  A long while ago, I checked the first one out from the library. I liked that Deb’rah, the main character, was a lone girl in a family of rollicking boys, liked the location, close to where a lot of my family and friends were heading, escaping western New York winters.  The book had that ‘ping’–that clicky catch–that says, Oh, yes, here’s a series you can latch onto and follow along.

So, on the Internet, I found a list of the books in the series; I printed it off, and I carry it around in my purse.  When we hit places like Half Price Books or Shanachie Books or Wall o’ Books or the Buck-a-Bag book sales at our local library, I search the fiction sections and the clearance racks for books by Margaret Maron.  I’ve found quite a few and stashed them on my shelves.  But they were further along in the series; I kept looking for Shooting at Loons to move me one step forward.  Finally, I looked at all those forlorn later books, just waiting for the blanks to be filled so they too could be read. “Oh, heck,” I decided, and I borrowed Shooting at Loons from the library, along with Up Jumps the Devil, the next one down the series line.

I was tired of waiting for serendipity to offer up those books for fifty cents apiece, and tired of waiting to find out what Deborah Knott might get up to next.


Having achieved her judge-ship, Deb’rah is vulnerable to the ways the winds blow–she can be loaned out to other districts in need of a judge.  Shooting at Loons finds her tucked into a cozy cabin on the shores of the Atlantic, where she stumbles upon bodies, discovers a welter of intrigue and suspicion, and meets a handsome, homely man who becomes her lover.  And finds the killer, of course, before she turns her little green Firebird up the road to the mountains she calls home.

In Up Jumps the Devil, the first murder is closer to home.  There seems to be no doubt, from early on in the book, just who done it.  There’s intrigue swirling here, too–land is being bought up.  A wealthy and successful brother, tight-lipped about his marriage, returns home after a long absence to possibly sell off his little three-acre patch.  Deb’rah becomes interested; why would anyone want that particular parcel of land?

Greedy relatives, a juicy chapter from Deborah’s early life, and the sometimes unhappy swirl of progress.  Something big is going to happen; I can just feel it.

I like the tight-knit family feel of Margaret Maron’s novels.  Deborah and her brothers and their extended family meet on Wednesday nights and make them some music, singing the old hymns, the old ballads, rollicking with wilder songs.  When someone dies, the family knows the niceties. They pluck a casserole from the freezer. They visit and pay respect.  Even when Deborah travels, she has, in that huge family network, connections.  So she has a place to stay on the coast.  Her brothers call in to sternly check on her.  And she and friend Kidd have to do some devious planning to find places to be intimate when he comes to visit; Deborah lives, after all, with Aunt Zell.

I like watching Deborah’s interior struggles–her mental preacher argues with her internal pragmatist; the result is, usually, a good one.

And I ponder the appeal of series–this one in particular, and of series reading, in general.  Clearly we–we, the entire world readership–like them.  Why is that?

I guess, for myself, when I find a book with that clicky catch, I am glad to return to its universe.  When I pick up a new book, there’s an intro period; I spend time getting used to the narrative voice, meeting the characters, exploring the setting.  I am debating and deciding for 80 to 100 pages; do I like this?  Do I fit here in this particular literary universe?  Am I going to spend some precious hours of my life in this company?

In a serial book, those decisions are made in Book One;  as I grab the next book in the series, I know the basics about whom I’ll meet and what the premise might be.  There’s no first date jitters; instead, the reading’s more like getting together with trusted old friends for coffee.

I think, for me, series books are escaping, relaxing, palate cleansing.  I don’t mean in any way to imply they are not well written, but they are written to amuse rather than to immerse the reader in deep and compelling, literary, challenging, throw a rose onto the pedestal and debate the symbolism interior debate.

I like that.

I like reading about a successful spunky woman who is the only daughter among a rowdy passel of brothers–that resonates.

I like the descriptions of the landscape that many of my near and dear ones visit regularly–that informs.

I like falling asleep and knowing I can pick right up where I left off, just before my eyelids slammed shut definitively–no review or summary of previous pages required. That relaxes.

I like Margaret Maron’s Deborah Knott series.  Have you read any?  If not, you might want to try one, see if they call up that same relaxing, engaging ‘ping’ for you.


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