You have to love a book with its first chapter titled “Rainy Days and Mondays Always Get Me Down.” I’m not positive but I think most of the chapters were song lyrics and most of them made me smile. Bootlegger’s Daughter (Amazon link) takes place in a fictional rural county of North Carolina which vaguely resembles the surrounding counties where I grew up (thank you I-95).
As a part of my Junior AP Literature class we went to my local library (a link over on the right) and heard Ms. Maron speak. Afterward I remember having a brief conversation with her when I got my book signed, but remember very little of the talk or the conversation. I remember I loved Mysteries at the time, having started Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone Alphabet series (A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, etc.). If I read the book when I got it, I didn’t remember any of the plot. I don’t think I did for two reasons, I remember most plots after a few chapters if I’ve read the book before, and I kept my books looking brand new and probably held this even higher because of Ms. Maron’s autograph.
I won’t go into the plot too much as it is a mystery, but there were two major things that struck me about this book, aside from her witty and brilliant use of colloquialisms and ability to write the dialects.
The first thing is Deborah Knott’s strength as a strong female character. I would go so far as to call her a feminist character as she walks with her head held high at the age of 34 (unheard of!). She comes from a traditional family with numerous siblings (all male) and grew up with them and all of their (male) friends and she takes after her Daddy and doesn’t take crap off any of them. She’s clearly used to fighting her way in a man’s world, as a lawyer she’s the only female in her practice and the only woman running for the local county judgeship. Not only does she do her best to shake up the “good ol’ boy’s club,” but she does it while navigating the 18-year-old murder case. There were a couple of times I worried the author would fall into the trap of knight in shining armor/southern gentleman to the rescue/traditional gender roles, but she steered clear with humor and dignity. (Thank you Ms. Maron!) I can’t speak as I’ve not read any of the other Deborah Knott Mysteries, but I hope she stays true and if she does have a relationship it’s a partnership and on her own terms!
The second noticeable thing about the book was the inclusion of multiple LGBT characters. I know it was written in 1993, and perhaps it is due to her time spent living abroad and in New York, but this was a tetchy subject in the South (and still remains so in a lot of parts). She dealt with this in an interesting way with some characters accepting it and moving on and finding creative (and humorous) ways of having relationships, and with other characters fighting their religion (or succumbing to it). Although one of the major archetypes (I think that’s the right word I want) of LGBT characters remained with a death and internalized-homophobia, most of the LGBT characters were believable, if a bit caricatured and one-dimensional.
The book is definitely worth reading for the twist at the end. I completely bought the excuse given by the police as I grew up in the area and that’s one of the local legends (and truths), but what really happened surprised me. It actually wasn’t so shocking, but if you read a book like I do (fully believing), then you’ll see what I mean. I’m not sure I’ll go looking for any of her other works, but if they come my way (or I see them at a used bookshop) I’ll definitely pick them up, after all it is a series and she’s written 16 featuring Deborah Knott!
Quotes from Bootlegger’s Daughter
“I love family reunions, even when they’re somebody else’s family. I love listening to the old-timers reminisce about people dead fifty or a hundred years. I love watching flirty teenagers discover a cute third cousin whose voice has changed since the last time they saw him. And I particularly love it when the eight- to ten-year-olds stand in front of the family tree chart and find themselves down at the crowded bottom row, as if all those births and deaths and marriages took place all those long years ago just so the multiple branches could lead inexorably to their own names.” – 70
“Just because Democrats don’t pay as much attention to color and gender as Republicans doesn’t mean they don’t take both into account when they step inside the voting booth.” – 24
“And I had not been wrong when I reminded Denn that most of these people were his friends , too. Most were firmly against homosexuality in theory. Most were also firmly against atheism, secular humanism, adultery, alcoholism, kleptomania, and a whole range of other things people did or were that deviated from the perceived norm; and that didn’t stop them from looking past all that if the person was basically decent and didn’t do whatever it was in the middle of the road and scare the mules.” – 199