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Hard Row    by Margaret Maron order for
Hard Row
by Margaret Maron
Order:  USA  Can
Grand Central, 2008 (2007)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

I know when I pick up a mystery by Margaret Maron, I'm in for a good read. Her latest, Hard Row, proved me right. She has managed, through the voice of Judge Deborah Knott, to not only solve a rather brutal murder and resolve legal disputes in her position as judge, but she also presents a case for the better treatment of guest or migrant workers. And presents it well.

Unattached body parts are springing up all over Colleton County in the North Carolina countryside. No one has been listed as a missing person. Who could these parts belong to? Enter Judge Knott's new husband, Sheriff's Deputy Dwight Bryant. The judge has eleven older brothers and her brothers tend to think of her as still their little sister, not the grown woman she is. Thankfully, her husband takes her seriously.

Illegal immigration is a hot point at the moment, as well as racial bias. A local farmer known for his harsh and uncaring treatment of his migrant farmhands is in the middle of an acrimonious divorce. Another deputy is afraid to take her Latino fiancé home to meet her family as she fears they will disown her. And Deborah and Dwight find it hard to slip Dwight's young son into their new lives.

Sounds like the kind of problems – or least similar ones – that we face every day. Well, maybe not the gruesome murder, but no one's life is problem free. Maron makes the bad times in Colleton County seem unique – as well as the good times of family reunions and ice hockey games. I've read and enjoyed all of Maron's many mystery novels and can heartily recommend each and every one.

2nd Review by Lyn Seippel:

North Carolina Judge Deborah Knott's court cases often coincide with her husband Sheriff's Deputy Dwight Bryant's investigations. Deborah has a divorce case that is pending because the husband keeps missing court appointments. She's ready to proceed without him while at the same time Dwight has one or more bodies showing up one piece at a time all over the county. No one suspects the cases might be related.

Other court cases involve immigrant workers, their employers, and the resentment found in some longtime county residents towards the newcomers. Detective Mayleen Richards experiences the resentment up close and personal when she asks her family to welcome Miguel Diaz, the man she is dating.

Deborah is also juggling family crises along with her heavy caseload. She's not only a newlywed, but also a full time mother to Dwight's son Cal, who is still getting over the death of his birth mother.

All of the Judge Knotts novels include her extended southern family and the books begin with a family tree so that the reader won't get lost in the kinships. Having the entire family living close by fleshes out Maron's novels in a way that makes them special amongst mystery series.

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