Saturday, April 24, 2021

Book Review: Bootlegger's Daughter by Margaret Maron

Bootlegger's Daughter

Margaret Maron
Series: A Deborah Knott Mystery (Book 1)
Publication: Maron and Company (December 31, 2013)

Description: Deborah Knott was expected to be a conventional little girl and eventually a conventional woman, worshipped on a pedestal by a conventional husband.

Instead, she became an attorney, infiltrating the old boy network that still rules the tobacco country of Colleton County, North Carolina. Some say her success is a sign of the New South, but no one knows better than she the power of the past—her family’s long history in the area is a major asset in her campaign for district judge. Then again, as the strong-willed daughter of Kezzie Knott—notorious bootlegger, ex-con, and political string-puller—history is also one of her greatest problems.

But it’s an episode from the more recent past that threatens to derail her campaign. As a teen, Deborah used to babysit little Gayle Whitehead for her mother, Janie. One rainy spring day eighteen years ago, both mother and daughter disappeared. When they were found three days later Gayle was dehydrated, dirty, and hungry...and Janie was dead. The unsolved murder became a local legend and an enigma that continues to haunt Gayle, who now begs Deborah to investigate.

With no real faith in her investigative skills, Deborah asks a variety of questions on her campaign tour of the county’s rallies—and soon her attention is distracted from the hurly-burly of politics by troubling new evidence. Deborah now faces the realization that the disadvantages of being the single female candidate in a southern judgeship race, and even the disadvantages of being Kezzie Knott’s daughter, are nothing in comparison to posing a threat to a successful murderer...

My Thoughts: This first Deborah Knott mystery introduces lawyer Deborah Knott who has decided to run for district judge. She is outraged at what she sees as betrayal of justice from a bigoted, snobbish judge and believes that she can do better.

She is running in her home county where she's related to many and knows many more. She comes with a reputation of her own since her father was a well-known bootlegger who went to prison but then had his sentence expunged. Now he's a prominent businessman in the county with lots of political power. Deborah and her father are currently estranged because she isn't the picture of a usual Southern woman and he doesn't understand why she wanted to be a lawyer and now wants to be a judge.

She's busy with her campaign when Gayle Whitehead comes to see her. Eighteen years earlier, Gayle and her mother Janie went missing. Janie was found a few days later dead in an old abandoned mill. Gayle was found in a babyseat near her mother dehydrated and dirty. The murder was never solved but not Gayle wants Deborah to look into it one last time.

Deborah babysat for Gayle and more recently she's dated Gayle's dad Jed Whitehead who she had a crush on as a teenager. She tries to discourage Gayle but eventually agrees to look into it as she is campaigning.

As Deborah investigates, she apparently is too close to buried secrets and becomes a target herself. First someone tries to damage her campaign and then shots are fired. I really enjoyed getting to know the characters Deborah meets and interviews in this story set in the early 90s. Racial tensions are still high. Homosexuals are not well-accepted. Cell phones aren't yet in everybody's pocket. 

I loved the Southern setting with the strong sense of community. I loved Deborah who has a strong sense of justice and great tolerance for the old boy network while finding her own way to work around it. This is the first of a 20 book series and I look forward to reading many more.

Favorite Quote:
Every time we start thinking we're the center of the universe, the universe turns around and says with a slightly distracted air, "I'm sorry. What'd you say your name was again?"
I bought this one. You can buy your copy here.

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