PERSONAL: Surname rhymes with "baron"; born in Greensboro, NC; daughter of C.O. and Claudia (Stephenson) Brown; married Joseph J. Maron; children: John J.
MEMBER: Mystery Writers of America (former member of board of directors; former president), America Crime Writers League, Sisters in Crime (former president), Carolina Crime Writers (member of steering committee).
AWARDS, HONORS: Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Mystery Novel, Agatha Christie Award for Best Mystery Novel, Anthony Boucher Award for Best Mystery Novel, Macavity Award for Best Mystery Novel, all 1992, all for Bootlegger's Daughter; Agatha Christie Award for best novel, 1996, for Up Jumps the Devil; Agatha Christie Award for Best Mystery Novel, 2000, for Storm Track; Agatha Christie Award for Best Short Story (tie), 2003, for "The Dog that Didn't Bark."
"SIGRID HARALD" MYSTERY SERIES
One Coffee With, Raven House, 1981.
Death of a Butterfly, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1984.
Death in Blue Folders, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1985.
The Right Jack, Bantam (New York, NY), 1987.
Baby Doll Games, Bantam (New York, NY), 1988.
Corpus Christmas, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1988.
Past Imperfect, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1991.
Fugitive Colors, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1995.
"DEBORAH KNOTT" MYSTERY SERIES
Bootlegger's Daughter, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1992.
Southern Discomfort, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1993.
Shooting at Loons, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1994.
Up Jumps the Devil, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1996.
Killer Market, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Home Fires, Thorndike (Thorndike, ME), 1999.
Storm Track, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Uncommon Clay, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 2001.
Slow Dollar, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 2002.
High Country Fall, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Rituals of the Season, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 2005.
Bloody Kin (mystery novel), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1985.
Shoveling Smoke: Selected Mystery Stories, Crippen and Landru (Norfolk, VA), 1997.
Last Lessons of Summer (mystery novel), Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Suitable for Hanging: Selected Stories, Crippen and Landru (Norfolk, VA), 2004.
Author of the short story "The Dog that Didn't Bark." Contributor of stories to anthologies, including Sisters in Crime 2, Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1989; Sisters in Crime 4, Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1990; A Woman's Eye, edited by Sara Paretsky; Christmas Stalkings, edited by Charlotte MacLeod; Deadly Allies, edited by Marilyn Wallace and Robert Randall; and Crimes of the Heart, edited by Carolyn G. Hart. Contributor of stories to magazines, including Redbook, McCall's, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Mike Shayne's Mystery Magazine, and Readers' Digest.
SIDELIGHTS: Margaret Maron's crime fiction is characterized by its realistic take on the life of working women. In creating the worlds of private eye Sigrid Harald and amateur sleuth Judge Deborah Knott, Maron uses "the structure of an evolving series to create an enlarged fictional landscape that, very much in the style of William Faulkner, contains the intertwined histories of [those] who inhabit it," according to Lorena Stookey in the St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers. Maron "spices her puzzle stories and novels of detection with distinctive social settings and a compelling cast of characters," continued the essayist. Doing so was the author's intent. As Maron told a contributor in Writer: "When I began my first mystery novel about [New York, NY homicide detective] Sigrid Harald, a self-conscious, awkward young woman who would be competent in her professional life but inept in dealing with her emotions, I simply intended to sustain my interest over a series of books and [create a character] who had plenty of room for personal growth."
In Harald's debut, One Coffee With, a university art historian dies after drinking poisoned office coffee, which puts the entire art department under suspicion. The challenging puzzle revolves around a poisoning in a busy office setting, but the book's appeal is also drawn from the counterpoint of Harald's quiet personal life, which consists mostly of interaction with her mother, her colleagues, and her few friends.
Over the course of the Harald series, readers learn more about her family's influence in her life. As the daughter of a police officer killed in the line of duty, Harald is devoted to the law but uneasy about her appearance, especially when compared to her more glamorous mother. Therefore, Sigrid downplays her femininity with drab, baggy clothing and an unflattering hairstyle. Underneath, however, there is a different woman, one who "wears only the most elegant of lingerie beneath her grey or olive outer garment," according to Lorena Stookey.
Harald's solitary life takes a romantic turn when an acquaintance from One Coffee With, Oscar Nauman, shows a romantic interest in her. By the fifth entry in the series, Baby Doll Games, Sigrid and Oscar are lovers, only to be separated by tragedy in book eight, Fugitive Colors.
Maron shifted her setting from New York to her native North Carolina with Bootlegger's Daughter, the first title in her second series, which features Judge Deborah Knott. Contrasting the workaday demeanor of Sigrid Harald, Knott epitomizes Southern charm. Bootlegger's Daughter won four prestigious mystery awards in 1992: the Edgar, the Anthony, the Macavity and the Agatha. The plot finds Knott, a lawyer, campaigning for a county judicial seat. She is drawn into an eighteen-year-old mystery that touches on issues of family loyalties, homosexuality, and child abuse. All the while, Maron presents readers with a picture of modern life in the American South.
In Killer Market Knott, now a judge, infiltrates North Carolina's famed furniture industry. A Publishers Weekly writer called this installment disappointing, noting that Maron did not hesitate to pepper her prose with "industry jargon and lore." Some readers "may enjoy the furniture and decorating [details,]" remarked the reviewer, "but most will look forward to Deborah's return to the cozy milieu of her home town and colorful family." A Library Journal critic found more to recommend in Killer Market, describing it as a book "tempered with observant detail, infectious enthusiasm and light humor."
In Home Fires Deborah Knott is torn between loyalty to her family and her duty to uphold justice when her nephew and a couple of his friends are accused of hate crimes. It is certain that the youth spray-painted racial epithets in a cemetery, but when he is linked to the burning of some churches, Deborah launches her own investigation and is satisfied of his innocence. A subplot involves the decades-old death of a civil rights worker, whose fate is finally exposed. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called Home Fires "a wholly engaging blend of country comfort and New South sophistication," and Booklist contributor Emily Melton found it to be a "refreshingly honest look at the modern South."
Storm Track incorporates the suspense of waiting for a killer hurricane to strike with a crime story concerning the strangulation of a woman known for her promiscuity. Library Journal contributor Rex E. Klett called this a "rousing combination" of plot elements. Storm Track also highlights the author's skill at evoking the "abiding pleasures and … inevitable complexities" of community life, according to Booklist reviewer Bill Ott. In Uncommon Clay the author focuses on a unique clay found in an area of North Carolina, which is used to make a special type of pottery. The book is "a solid addition to the Knott series," according to Booklist writer Mary Carroll.
Slow Dollar finds Judge Knott involved with a smalltime carnival and the murder of the owner's son. There are many suspects among the carnival workers, and as Deborah investigates them she is caught up in a light romance with deputy sheriff Dwight Bryant. According to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, the author's ear for dialog is "perfect," whether her speakers are using the dialect of rural North Carolina or carnival slang.
By the time of the events in High Country Fall, the judge is engaged to Dwight Bryant, but her family does not approve of the union. Feeling stressed over the issue, Knott gladly takes a temporary position in a court in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Her getaway, however, is interrupted by two murders, and the suspect is a friend of Knott's nieces, who are staying with her in her condominium. Suspense and a brush with death are blended with a romantic confusion in the plot, which was rated a "gripping puzzler" by a Publishers Weekly writer. The mountain setting is a crucial element of the story, too, and according to Booklist contributor Stephanie Zvirin, who wrote that "Maron does a beautiful job with it."
Knott and Dwight's wedding is imminent in Rituals of the Season. On the eve of the event, however, the assistant district attorney is shot and killed while driving, and her infant child dies in the ensuing accident. The autopsy reveals that she was also pregnant at the time of her death. Knott discovers that the district attorney was looking into an old murder case, which may have provided the motive for murder. In addition to the mystery, there is considerable attention given to the plans for Knott and Dwight's nuptial. Booklist reviewer Bill Ott noted that newcomers to the series might find this story's emphasis on romance, the wedding, and domestic arrangements somewhat "overwhelming," but added that "Deborah's fans will want to hear it all." Library Journal writer Michele Leber advised that readers might find themselves shedding "a tear of happiness" over the book's ending, and a Publishers Weekly reviewer commended this eleventh installment in the series as "first-rate."
Maron's attention to detail has often been pointed out by commentators as a credit to her research. Besides keeping a library that includes titles like Practical Homicide Investigation: Tactics, Procedures and Forensic Techniques, the author seeks face-to-face advice from the experts. "Through the years, I've found it relatively easy to get my facts straight when dealing with the investigation of the murder itself," she commented in Writer. "Most medico/legal professionals will talk to you about postmortem cooling, lethal doses, blood-splatter patterns, etc., once you've explained clearly and concisely why you want to know."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Booklist, July, 1998, Emily Melton, review of Home Fires, p. 1830; February 15, 2000, Bill Ott, review of Storm Track, p. 1089; May 1, 2001, Mary Carroll, interview with Margaret Maron and review of Uncommon Clay, p. 1604; May 1, 2003, Connie Fletcher, review of Last Lessons of Summer, p. 1549; March 15, 2004, Barbara Bibel, review of Suitable for Hanging: Selected Stories, p. 1272; May 1, 2004, Stephanie Zvirin, review of High Country Fall, p. 1515; May 1, 2005, Bill Ott, review of Rituals of the Season, p. 1528.
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2002, review of Slow Dollar, p. 842; July 1, 2003, review of Last Lessons of Summer, p. 887; June 15, 2005, review of Rituals of the Season, p. 666.
Library Journal, August, 1997, review of Killer Market; April 1, 2000, Rex E. Klett, review of Storm Track, p. 134; May 1, 2001, Rex Klett, review of Uncommon Clay, p. 132; July, 2002, Rex Klett, review of Slow Dollar, p. 125; August, 2003, Michele Leber, review of Last Lessons of Summer, p. 133; July, 2004, Rex E. Klett, review of High Country Fall, p. 64; July 1, 2005, Michele Leber, review of Rituals of the Season, p. 58.
New York Times Book Review, December 27, 1998, Marilyn Stasio, review of Home Fires, p. 17; April 16, 2000, Marilyn Stasio, review of Storm Track, p. 32; June 10, 2001, Marilyn Stasio, review of Uncommon Clay, p. 28; August 18, 2002, Marilyn Stasio, review of Slow Dollar, p. 14; August 22, 2004, Marilyn Stasio, review of High Country Fall, p. 15; August 28, 2005, Marilyn Stasio, review of Rituals of the Season, p. 21.
Publishers Weekly, June 16, 1997, review of Killer Market; October 5, 1998, review of Home Fires, p. 84; March 13, 2000, review of Storm Track, p. 66; April 9, 2001, review of Uncommon Clay, p. 53, and Pat Koch, interview with Margaret Maron, p. 54; October 22, 2001, review of Corpus Christmas, p. 52; July 15, 2002, review of Slow Dollar, p. 57; July 7, 2003, review of Last Lessons of Summer, p. 56; June 21, 2004, review of High Country Fall, p. 46; June 27, 2005, review of Rituals of the Season, p. 44.
Writer, June, 1993, interview with Margaret Maron.
BookBrowser, http://www.bookbrowser.com/ (February 10, 2006), Harriet Klausner, review of Slow Dollar.
Books for a Buck, http://www.booksforabuck.com/ (February 10, 2006), review of Storm Track.
Independent Weekly, http://www.indyweek.com/ (February 10, 2006), Kate Dobbs Ariail, review of Uncommon Clay.
Margaret Maron's Home Page, http://www.margaretmaron.com (February 10, 2006).