Thursday, August 21, 2008

Death's Half Acre - Margaret Maron


Death’s Half Acre
A Deborah Knott Mystery
Margaret Maron
Grand Central

Mystery

Suburban sprawl has come to beautiful Colleton County, North Carolina. First, a few homes for wealthy commuters from the larger cities, then whole housing developments followed by the inevitable shopping centers featuring a lot of asphalt for parking. The Board of County Commissioners controls this type of growth, of course, but they’re heavily influenced by the builders, who are making money hand over fist. The chairman is Candace Bradshaw, a woman who fought her way up from poverty by running an office cleaning service and has no intentions of looking back.

Candace was installed as chairman through a series of political favors and machinations common in small communities where everyone pretty much knows everyone else. She enjoys her position of power immensely, but votes as her benefactors direct her. She and her much-older husband are separated and have a daughter, Dee, who’s home from college. After another mother-daughter blowout, Dee shows up at her dad’s house, saying Candace kicked her out again.

That evening, Candace very uncharacteristically misses a board meeting to discuss more development. It doesn’t take long for word to get out that Candace was found, dead, an apparent suicide. Although she left a note that talked about her misusing her job for personal gain, no one can quite believe she’d kill herself. Obviously, there are people who might want her dead. Wives whose husbands enjoyed Candace’s favors, political enemies. And then investigators find that Candace was keeping files on everyone. She knew a lot of things that could make life – political and personal – very difficult for a lot of people. Including Judge Deborah Knott.

This is a fascinating and pretty accurate snapshot of political life in a small town. The lines of power and influence are inextricably intertwined. In some way, everyone owes everyone else; and plenty of people have memories that stretch back over generations, remembering slights and shady dealings. It made me a little sad to realize how Deborah got appointed, and why she’d be so worried about finding Candace’s secret files on a hidden flash drive, but it’s pretty realistic. Longtime readers will recognize recurring characters, and newcomers will feel right at home. And there’s an interesting little subplot threaded through the novel involving Kezzie Knott, onetime moonshiner and all-around character.

Rating: 7
August 2008
ISBN# 978-0-446-19610-9 (hardcover)

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