The Buzzard Table by Margaret Maron is the 18th novel in the Deborah Knott mystery series (available November 20, 2012).
Judge Deborah Knott and Sheriff’s Deputy Dwight Bryant are back home in Colleton County, North Carolina, with all their family and courthouse regulars. But there are a few new faces as well. Lt. Sigrid Herald and her mother, Anne, a well-known photographer, are down from New York to visit Anne’s ailing mother, Mrs. Lattimore.
When the group gathers for dinner at Mrs. Lattimore’s Victorian home, they meet the enigmatic Martin Crawford, an ornithologist who claims to be researching a new book on Southern vultures. More importantly, he’s Mrs. Lattimore’s long-lost nephew, and Sigrid and Anne’s English cousin. With her health in decline, Mrs. Lattimore wants to make amends with her family—something Deborah can understand as she too is working to strengthen her relationship with her stepson, Cal. But for all his mysterious charm, Anne can’t shake the feeling that there is something familiar about Martin…something he doesn’t want Anne or anyone else to discover. When a murderer strikes, Deborah, Dwight, and Sigrid will once again work together to solve the crime and uncover long-buried Lattimore family secrets.
Martin Crawford is the most interesting, or should I say intriguing, character in this novel. He’s more than he says he is. He definitely has a lot of secrets; most of the time his behavior is, to say the least, suspicious; and no matter how hard he tries to go unnoticed he consistently draws people’s attention.
The man entered the living room and went straight to our hostess. Of medium height and average build, his hair and neatly trimmed short beard were steel gray, and there were deep lines around his eyes. He wore rimless square glasses, a black turtleneck sweater, and a gold chain. His black wool suit had good lines but something about the way it hung made me think he might have lost weight since he first bought it. He took Mrs. Lattimore’s hand in both of his own and in that light British accent said, “So sorry to hold everyone up, Aunt Jane. My truck didn’t want to start.”
It was the buzzard man.
The buzzard man. That’s what the kids called him, but he’s more than that and whether he likes it or not soon enough he’ll find himself in the middle of a minor storm of events that will upset his seemingly serene everyday life. The corpse of a young woman who was reported missing a few days earlier will be discovered not far from his cabin and the police will come knocking on his door. And when we say “the police” we mean Chief Deputy Dwight, and now-and-then Judge Deborah Knott.
Almost everyone seems to think that Crawford has something to do with the case, but there’s no evidence to support that and Dwight has a gut feeling Martin’s not the perp he’s looking for. Could he be mistaken?
In the meantime the peace and quiet of rural North Carolina is broken yet again when a protest takes place outside an airport in the region. Rumor has it that rendition flights are stopping over there before heading to Cuba, and the protesters are willing to do just about anything to stop that from happening. During the protest a young man breaks into the airport grounds and finds himself in big trouble. Anne, the photographer, and a few other good-hearted people, will try to help him out, but soon he’ll walk into a danger zone again.
Things get even more complicated when the dead body of a CIA man is found in a hotel room not far away. What was he doing there? Who killed him and why?
So, there are a couple of murders and a few mysteries to solve, but that doesn’t stop most of the main characters from enjoying their everyday lives, meeting for dinners, having parties, working in their gardens, or just driving around taking in their surroundings and thinking about the simple yet important things in life.
As I drove west out of Dobbs, it seemed to me that the days were getting noticeably longer. Time was passing much too quickly, though. Turn around twice and it would soon be summer—sandals, cotton slacks, and sleeveless dresses.
And then the domestic matters slip in.
What with the growth spurt Cal had taken this winter, I doubted if there was much he could still wear from last summer. Unfortunately, he likes to shop for clothes just about as much as Dwight does, but maybe I could issue a bench warrant for the two of them and haul them both out to one of the Raleigh malls this spring.
Wishful thinking? Maybe. Cal is Dwight’s son and despite all the love that he gets from Deborah he still feels that there’s something missing. It’s up to the adults to find out what and act on it.
This is a well-written mystery with a very good plot and great characters. The location provides the perfect background for the story; I’d even dare say that it plays an important part in the action. I really enjoyed the interaction between the main protagonists and the way they handle things as they come. It’s as if they understand that whatever happens will soon blow over and peace will prevail.
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Lakis Fourouklas has published four novels and three short-story collections in Greek. He’s currently translating his work into English and blogs at Fiction & More. He also keeps a few blogs in Greek regarding general fiction, Japanese literature, and crime fiction. Follow him on Twitter:@lakisf. He lives in the wilderness of Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Read all posts by Lakis Fourouklas for Criminal Element.