Saturday, January 14, 2012

"Three-Day Town"

Margaret Maron grew up on a farm near Raleigh and lived in Brooklyn for many years. Returning to her North Carolina roots prompted Maron to write a series based on her own background, the first of which, Bootlegger's Daughter, was a Washington Post bestseller and swept the major mystery awards for 1993.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Three-Day Town, the seventeenth book in the acclaimed Deborah Knott series, and reported the following:
Three-Day Town is the 17th in my series about NC District Court Judge Deborah Knott, who lives and works in a semi-rural area of eastern North Carolina. All of the previous books were set in the state but when her new sister-in-law offers her a week in a New York apartment, Deborah quickly accepts. She and Major Dwight Bryant of the Colleton County Sheriff’s Department have been married a full year without having taken an honeymoon. New York in January with its ice and snow and sub-freezing temperature may not seem like the best choice for a belated honeymoon, but they have to take what I give them.

Almost immediately they are invited to a winter party down the hall. When they return to the apartment a couple of hours later, they find the door on the latch and a body chilling on the balcony. The first officer on the scene is Lt. Sigrid Harald of the NYPD, the main protagonist of my first mystery series.

My readers have long wanted to see the two meet and this gave me the opportunity. Although Sigrid is a cool professional and a New Yorker through and through, she has Southern roots. Long before I ever created Deborah Knott, I had given Sigrid a North Carolina grandmother. On page 69 of Three-Day Town, it has snowed heavily the night before. Sigrid’s in the Greenwich Village house she shares with her housemate, a would-be mystery writer who keeps trying to pick her brains for plot ideas. This scene shows her worry about her elderly grandmother and how she interacts with her team, both important factors in this book:
“I doubt it. And it’s not that interesting except that the murder weapon is probably a little bronze thing my grandmother sent up for Mother.” Knowing that [her housemate] would not leave it alone until she defused his interest, she gave him a bare bones synopsis of last night and then went down to her room to dress.

9:15 and Grandmother Lattimore had always been an early riser, so she dialed the 919 area code. After two rings, a soft Southern voice answered. “Lattimore residence.”

“May I speak to Mrs. Lattimore?”

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” said the unfamiliar voice. “Mrs. Lattimore is sleeping. May I take a message?”

Surprised, Sigrid identified herself. “Grandmother’s not sick, is she?”

“She said she was just a little tired, ma’am, but I’m sure she’ll be awake soon.”

“Tell her I’ll call back this afternoon after church.” Her grandmother might be past ninety, but she had an iron will and Sigrid doubted that a little tiredness would keep her from Sunday morning services.

Moments later, she was speaking to a desk sergeant at a nearby precinct house who promised that he would have a car meet her at the corner of the closest uptown street.

# #

At the office, Sam Hentz gave a tight smile when he saw her and held out his hand to the others, who groaned and handed over their dollar bills.

Sigrid seldom bantered with them, but their chagrinned looks amused her and she paused to push back the hood of her white parka and unwrap the fleecy turquoise scarf that had protected her face from the worst of the icy wind sweeping off the Hudson when she made her way to West Street earlier.

“What?” she said. “You thought a little snow would keep me home?”
Having taken Deborah to NYC in this book, my next book The Buzzard Table, will bring Sigrid down to Deborah’s turf. Turnabout, etc.
Learn more about the book and author at Margaret Maron's website.

--Marshal Zeringue