Odd Bird Livens Up North Carolina Mystery

"The Buzzard Table" by Margaret Maron
Reviewed by David Marshall James

The appearance of a mysterious stranger in a remote area contributes elements of unease and foreboding to North Carolina author Margaret Maron's latest Deborah Knott novel.

Add to that, that said stranger is also collecting roadkill to attract the local buzzardry, and the creepy factor ratchets up even higher.

As the story progresses, this man turns out to be a relative of Sigrid Harald; her mother, Anne; and Anne's mother, who is dying from cancer.

NYPD Lt. Sigrid Harald has ventured down from New York City, as has Anne, to comfort their terminally ill matriarch and to assist in inventorying her valuable estate.

Meanwhile, their connection to the stranger-- and his secret tie to Anne's professional past as a photojournalist-- is threaded into a story that features the murder of a local (fictitious Colleton County, N.C.) realtor.

When her body is dumped not far from "the buzzard table," the spot where the stranger is feeding the birds, he becomes an even greater focus of the local constabulary. Highly placed among them is Judge Deborah Knott's husband of one year and almost two months, Maj. Dwight Bryant.

Deborah's docket introduces the case of a high-school student, also interested in photography, who must provide community service for B&E at the county airport.

BTW: What's going on there proves integral to the plot.

When Anne gives the young man some pointers on photojournalism, he, too, is exposed to the buzzard-feeding visitor.

As per her norm, Maron's novel teems with personalities and a strong sense of rural northeastern North Carolina, past and present. An agrarian area once ruled by tobacco, the changing of the seasons continues to exert profound effects on the inhabitants.

One reason this series has run to eighteen volumes is that the author doesn't pad out her material. Agatha Christie observed (in her autobiography) that, if an author cannot wrap up a mystery novel in less than 70,000 words, then there is either too much story for one book, or else that story has been be-larded.

Christie also noted that mystery plots ought to have obvious, not obscure, solutions; therefore, mystery authors must learn how to obscure the obvious.

Maron subscribes to both techniques, and her past two Knott books have benefited from the presence of Harald, who serves as the focus of another series by the author.

All long-running series authors sooner than later hear the refrain, "But the first books were better." However, Maron has been striving-- and succeeding-- in maintaining the likability of her Deborah Knott novels.