Margaret Maron's beloved series protagonists Judge Deborah Knott and Lt. Sigrid Harald meet at long last in Three-Day Town.
When I created Lt. Sigrid Harald an astonishing (at least to me) 30 years ago, I knew a lot about her. I knew that she was 5’ 10” and skinny with gray eyes, that she wore her fine dark hair in a frumpy bun, that she didn’t care about clothes, and she didn’t burble about nature although she did like poetry and had a dry wit that tended toward the intellectual. I knew that while she was thoroughly competent and professional in her work at the NYPD, she was uncomfortable in her skin and awkward with personal relationships. I knew, although she did not, that her boss had once been partnered with her father, who was killed in the line of duty when she was barely more than a toddler. I knew that this would be a series and that it would cover exactly one cataclysmic year in her life. I also knew that there was an overarching mystery about her father and that I would reveal a little more of it in each book as the series progressed.
I did not know what that mystery might be. Nor did I know it was going to take me 14 years to get her through that one 12-month period. “For years, readers have asked for the return of NYPD Lt. Sigrid Harald—and they wanted her to meet my other series character, Judge Deborah Knott.”
Every series writer has to decide early on what to do about the problem of time. Does she let her characters age as did Dorothy Sayers with Harriet and Peter Wimsey, and Marcia Muller with Sharon McCone? Or does she keep them the same vague, indeterminate age as Agatha Christie did with Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, and Joan Hess with Arlie Hanks?
Sue Grafton finessed the problem by keeping Kinsey Millhone in the 1980s where she began, which means that Kinsey’s only three or four years older and still doesn’t have a cell phone. But most of us choose to write in the current “now” and to let our characters age verrrrry slowwwwly. My Deborah Knott was around 34 when she came to the bench. Seventeen books later, she’s edging up on 40.
Although the Sigrid Harald books always got good reviews, they never really found an audience. Most readers were inclined to take her at face value, to see only the off-putting surface and not what I had hinted was underneath. They went out of print almost as quickly as they were published. Now, 15 years after the last one saw daylight, they are going online as ebooks and I am delighted with the feedback as more readers have finally begun to “get” her. One wrote to me, “I began the series not liking Sigrid because she was so different from Deborah Knott, but I finished the last book in tears because there are no more.”
From the beginning, though, Sigrid did have partisans who kept bugging me for more books about her. Short stories were not enough. They wanted to see her in a full-length novel and they wanted her to meet Deborah.
Three-Day Town, from Grand Central, is the book they’ve been asking for. Deborah married Sheriff’s Deputy Dwight Bryant in Rituals of the Season, but a year later, they still hadn’t taken a honeymoon. In this book they get one. January in New York may not be the most romantic time of year, but that’s life. They have to take what I give them. Of course there’s a murder in the apartment someone has lent them and of course, Sigrid Harald is the homicide detective who shows up.
Alert readers will find all sorts of anachronisms and time slippages, but I’m hoping they’ll suspend their disbelief, go with the flow, and enjoy seeing Deborah on Sigrid’s home turf.
Three-Day Town, Margaret Maron, Grand Central Publishing, November 2011.
This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Holiday Issue #122.