Margaret Maron: Designated Daughters

I’ve been a mystery fan since I was a kid (we won’t go into just how many decades that covers), and I’ve gone through series after series over the years. If I had hung onto all the mystery novels I’ve collected, I’d have something between a dedicated library and an episode of hoarders.

There are series (and authors) I’ve read in their entirety, others I’ve gotten bored with and abandoned. There are quite a few that I continued to enjoy even if the newer novels spend some time on the To Be Read shelf. And, sad to say, there are a few on the To Be Read shelf that I may not get around to—how long is too long in limbo?

Designated DaughtersThe latest in Margaret Maron’s Deborah Knott mystery series never stays on the shelf more than a few days. I’ve enjoyed Deborah’s adventures since her first appearance in Bootlegger’s Daughter (1992), and the newest novel, Designated Daughters, is as good as ever.

Deborah Knott is indeed a bootlegger’s daughter, although her eighty-something father has long since retired from that game. She is also a District Court judge in Colleton County, North Carolina, and one of the facets of the stories that I enjoy (and miss when Deborah occasionally travels out of her home territory) is the parade of loons and lost souls through her courtroom. Deborah, the youngest sibling and only daughter in her family, also has eleven older brothers who, along with their various wives, ex-wives, children, and grandchildren, often supply background information in Deborah’s investigations.

Designated Daughters revolves around the murder of Deborah’s Aunt Rachel, a woman already on her deathbed in the hospice wing of the local hospital. Why would anyone smother a woman only days, perhaps hours, from a natural death? Perhaps the explanation lies in the long silent Rachel’s sudden semi-conscious chatter about long ago events. Deborah and her husband, Sheriff’s Deputy Dwight Bryant, set out to unravel Rachel’s rambling remarks, uncovering long-buried secrets and motives.

The novel’s title refers to the caregivers, most but not all of them women, who devote so much of their lives to the care of elderly loved ones, and in this story band together to help one of their own.

Deborah has so many brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews that trying to follow their connections sometimes becomes confusing (Maron generally includes a family tree), but the mysteries are laced with humor, charm, small town and farm life, and I’ve enjoyed every one of them.

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