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By Margaret Maron

Grand Central Publ., 2009, c2008 ($7.99)
ISBN-10: 044661808X
ISBN-13: 978-0446-61808-3

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

Deborah Knott, the youngest of ex-bootlegger Kezzie's twelve children, loves Colleton County, North Carolina. She was born there, grew up there, and her people have farmed the land for generations. The soil is part of their soul. Now a judge and newly married to Sheriff's Deputy Dwight Bryant, she and the other families with deep roots in this soil are dismayed by the greedy developers buying up the farms and throwing up shoddy housing developments and ugly MacMansions, but they can't stop progress. They can, however, slow it down, and some of Deborah's family members, including dear old dad, are especially skillful at that. Deborah's extensive family, with all their connections and talents, and loyalty to each other, makes one wish for a web of kinfolk to call for whatever need comes up. This loyalty comes under some strain, though, when Kezzie starts acting in a peculiar way.

Candace Bradshaw came from true trailer trash, her mother a drunken slut, her father unknown. With a lot of gumption and desire she pulled herself out of the mire and married Cameron Bradshaw, a wealthy older man. Even though the marriage ended, Cameron recognized her abilities and gave her control of his business. She knew how to use her sex appeal and shrewd mind to get what she wants, working her way into the chairmanship of the county board of commissioners. Most people liked her, but there were rumors that she knew where a lot of bodies were buried and that she had detailed knowledge of her fellow citizens; secrets, including one about the Knott family that could cause Deborah and Kezzie some problems.

Somebody decided to shut her up for good, but even in death she remained a threat. Whoever killed her obviously didn't find her incriminating evidence, and the continuing search put Deborah's own life in danger, and also put her in a moral quandary.

At the same time Deborah and Dwight are attempting to find out who killed Candace, they are trying to help Dwight's young son deal with the recent death of his mother, with all the changes it brought. Deborah is at sea when it comes to mothering skills, but she has plenty of relatives who can lend a hand.

Ms. Maron is that rare writer who can write a very long series that never gets stale or repetitive. This book was selected by Publishers Weekly as one of the best of 2008, and it rightfully deserves that honor.

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