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Even in the best of times, the Pentagon rarely inspires cozy feelings. Unless you're Margaret Maron and her husband, Joe, who met there when he was in the Navy and she was on a summer job.
"When we drive up 95 and everybody else looks over at that grim, gray, concrete, five-sided squirrel cage, we just see a pink, rosy glow," sighs the award-winning author, whose 14th Deborah Knott mystery, Death's Half Acre (Aug., Grand Central), has the North Carolina judge adapting to life as a newlywed and a stepmother.
But Deborah's wedding to sheriff's deputy Dwight Bright, which took place in 2005's Rituals of the Season, wasn't an event Maron ever intended to write. She considered Dwight and Deborah's relationship to be more like that of brother and sister, but she took her cue from readers, who spied something in their interactions that the author didn't catch at first.
"I thought of Dwight as a way for Deborah to have a look in on the law-enforcement side of a murder, and that they were there for each other when the other one was not a romantic relationship. That was strictly all it was supposed to be," she maintains. "I would have given him a better name had I known -- 'Stone' or 'Rock' or one of those more masculine names. I mean, Dwight Bryant!"
His moniker may make him seem as if he should be relegated to comic-relief status, but Maron quickly realized her readers were an incisive bunch. "It's so funny to catch your subconscious off guard. I went back and read their scenes together and thought, 'I'll be damned! Dwight knows he's not her brother, but Deborah doesn't have a clue. Let's see where we go.'"
Where Deborah -- and Maron -- have been going for the last two books is to confront issues impacting their rural North Carolina community. Last year's Hard Row dealt with the exploitation of immigrant workers, and Death's Half Acre centers on greedy land developers destroying the countryside. But for Maron, who lives on the remaining 17 acres of what was once a hundred-acre family farm, the changeover has not been without some advantages.
"I feel like we're under siege almost," she says. "It breaks my heart to drive by a farm and see the surveyor ribbons and stakes on what was once a tobacco field or a cotton field and to know that it's going to have houses all over it.
"On the other hand we now have grocery stores that we didn't have before," adds the author, who briefly lived in her husband's hometown of Brooklyn, N.Y. "When we first moved here, the only way you could buy olive oil was in little tiny bottles, about two ounces, and we would bring back olive oil from New York by the gallon. And we now have a better symphony, we have opera, we have ballet, which we didn't have before.
So as long as they let me have my little piece of the land, I guess I'll just have to put
up with it."
Maron promises that the next Deborah book will be more lighthearted and involve aspects of the TV industry in Wilmington, N.C. And although she has no plans to continue her long dormant series featuring New York police lieutenant Sigrid Harald in novel form, readers can get a taste of what she's been up to since 1995's Fugitive Colors thanks to a short story, "Murder at Montefugoni," in the September/October issue of Ellery Queen.
-- Diane Snyder
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