Saturday, 22 August 2015 10:08

maronmargaret longupontheland
Characters in long-running mystery series become more than something on a page—they become as familiar to us as friends.

It’s almost as if we want to read that annual novel to check with these characters, to see what they are up to, what changes have occurred in their lives, and, of course, go with them on their latest adventure.

And when those series end, we miss those characters and what they meant to us when we first became acquainted with them. I, for one, will miss Kinsey Millhone when Sue Grafton finally reaches Z Is for (whatever). And that won’t be long as X, just X, came out this month.

So Margaret Maron’s announcement that her latest novel, Long Upon the Land, will be the last Deborah Knott outing gave me pause.

I will miss this North Carolina district judge, her large, extended family, and their rural lifestyle.

But I will especially miss Deborah Knott, who made her first appearance in 1992 with Bootlegger’s Daughter, which went on to win the Edgar, Anthony, Agatha, and Macavity awards.

Bootlegger's Daughter also is listed among the 100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century as selected by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association.

From that first novel, I found a real kinship with Deborah, and I could relate to her closeness with her father, who was a farmer much like mine, though mine grew soybeans, wheat, and corn instead of tobacco. Nor was my dad a bootlegger, though I can’t vouch for his father or grandfather, or for what was grown in those backwoods.

I well remember a passage in Bootlegger’s Daughter in which Deborah talks about how quiet it could sometimes be in the country, where, if you listened carefully, you could hear corn grow.

A 23-year run is a good stretch for any series. But those years have flown by, and for fans, 23 years isn’t enough.

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So why is Maron, who was named a Grand Master in 2013 by the Mystery Writers of America, ending the Deborah Knott series?

In a statement, Maron said: “Bootlegger's Daughter, the first in my Judge Deborah Knott series, was published in 1992. In it, Deborah mentions a Zippo lighter that her mother always carried. When her mother died, all 11 of her brothers wanted it and almost came to blows over it even though she was only sibling who knew the lighter’s history.

“Over the years, readers have asked me about the lighter's significance and I had to admit that neither Deborah nor I knew the whole truth. Another ongoing puzzle was how Susan Stephenson, the educated daughter of a socially prominent attorney, wound up married to Kezzie Knott, a semi-illiterate bootlegger. As one book followed another, those two questions were always in the back of my mind. Long Upon the Land, the 20th—and last—Deborah Knott novel, answers both questions so completely that another book would be anticlimactic.”

And there was another reason, Maron stated: “Several years ago, two close friends and I made a pact. We had watched other authors keep writing about the same character over and over, hashing and rehashing the same material until they debased some of the reputation they had forged with their earlier books. ‘If that happens to me,’ each of us told the others, ‘promise that one of you will come and kill me.’”

She promises “to keep writing, but I can say absolutely, positively, and with no equivocation that there will never be a 21st Deborah Knott novel. My two friends take their promises very seriously.”

Since the word has gotten out that Long Upon the Land is the last of Deborah Knott, hundreds of people have left comments on Maron’s Facebook page.

“Some of which have moved me to tears,” Maron said in an email. “Almost all of them bemoan the fact that the series has ended, but even more thank me for the years of pleasure. Some feel as if Deborah and her kin are part of their own extended family and they feel as if there's been a death in the family.”

So long, Deborah Knott. Keep bringing justice to North Carolina communities.

For long-time readers, this is a perfect time to go back and re-read the series.

As for new readers to this series, what are you waiting for?

Say Goodbye to Deborah Knott
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Wednesday, 19 August 2015 19:50

nortoncarla edgenormal
Matt Venne has built a reputation of writing film scripts that veer on horror—Masters of Horror, Fear Itself, and the miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s Bag of Bones.

Now he has been tapped for a script that is a bit more realistic, yet just as terrifying.

Venne has written an adaptation of Carla Norton’s debut novel, The Edge of Normal.

The Edge of Normal, about a young woman rebuilding her life after being held by a kidnapper for years, offers more than a ripped-from-the-headlines pastiche, as I said in my review of Norton’s 2013 fiction debut.

My review also stated that Norton “delivers an emotional story of a woman fighting to regain her sense of self, to reach, at least, an edge of normal without falling. Reeve LeClaire, who was kidnaped when she was 12 and held for four years, doesn’t want people to see her only as a victim but as a survivor.

“Now 22 and living on her own in San Francisco, Reeve forces herself to deal with traumatic stress that will always linger because of her ordeal. She maintains a precise routine and sessions with a compassionate therapist who is an authority on ‘captivity syndrome,’” I added.

In 1988, Norton co-wrote the true crime book Perfect Victim about Colleen Stan, a young hitchhiker who was picked up in California by a couple who kept her captive as a sex slave for seven years.

Norton’s novel The Edge of Normal won the Royal Palm Literary Award and was a finalist for the Thriller Award.

According to Variety.com and a couple of other sources, Bold Films is developing the thriller as a movie after outbidding several other potential buyers for Venne’s script.

One of the things that made The Edge of Normal so intriguing was Norton’s compassionate view of victims and their recovery.

Hopefully, the film version can hold on to that aspect of The Edge of Normal.

Movie Deal: Carla Norton
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Saturday, 15 August 2015 23:50

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Erik Larson’s brilliant 2003 nonfiction book The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America is one of the best true crime books I have ever read.

Mixing history with true crime, Larson showed how a serial killer hid in plain sight during the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, also known as the World’s Columbian Exposition.

In Chicago at the end of the 19th century amid the smoke of industry and the clatter of trains there lived two men, both handsome, both blue-eyed, and both unusually adept at their chosen skills, begins Larson’s tale.


For a dozen years there has been talk of a movie—and the book is indeed tailor-made for the films—but until now that has only been talk.

According to Deadline.com and another source, Paramount has closed a splashy deal to acquire Larson’s book. The sources added that the project will feature director Martin Scorsese re-teaming with Leonardo DiCaprio, left, who gets the killer role that he has wanted to play for a long time.

I can see Leonardo as Dr. HH Holmes, the serial killer believed to have murdered anywhere from 27 to 200 people. His crimes were not uncovered until after the World’s Fair had closed.

He went unsuspected because Chicago was wrapped up in hosting the World’s Fair of 1893.

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Holmes constructed The World’s Fair Hotel, which catered to young single women. The hotel became known as a “murder castle,” with gas chamber and crematorium. Holmes would sell his victims’ skeletons for medical and scientific study.

But The Devil in the White City also shows how Chicagoans were entranced by the World’s Fair and all the modern conveniences and attitudes it brought.

The Devil in the White City alternates between its look at Holmes and Daniel Burnham, an architect who was a director of works for the exposition and the builder of many of America’s most famous structures.

Burnham, the architect of the Flatiron Building in New York City and Union Station in Washington, DC, among others, organized the six-month fair despite political barriers and constant in-fighting among his teams. His mission was to out-Eiffel Eiffel, whose still-standing tower had been the hit of the Paris World’s Fair.

Today, the only building that survives is the Palace of Fine Arts, which was remade into Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.

Originally, author Graham Moore, author of the novel The Sherlockian, was to write the script and the film was to have been out in 2013.

Didn’t quite work out that way.

Let’s hope The Devil in the White City’s time is here.

Movie Deal: "The Devil in White City"
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