Christmas Mourning Review
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On the way home from a party in rural North Carolina, Colleton High’s lead cheerleader dies in a one-car accident. Friends and family are stunned, but it’s ruled an accident until the coroner discovers alcohol and drugs in her system. Her father swears she didn’t drink, and so do her friends. Maybe someone spiked her Coke at the party?

Deputy Dwight Bryant and Judge Deborah Knott plan on spending a quiet Christmas with family, but the young girl’s death puts a pall on the holiday season. As more evidence comes to light, they begin to wonder if maybe she was murdered. But why? No clear motive exists—just rumors that some of her classmates might have been jealous of her.

As ugly gossip rises up from the past, Dwight and Deborah fear that more deaths will follow if they don’t find the truth and put the killer—or killers—behind bars. Meanwhile, a small town mourns the death of one of their own during the worst time of the year to lose a loved one, but they gamely carry on with the holiday season as best they can.

Christmas Mourning isn’t a half-bad mystery. I enjoyed getting a brief glimpse inside Judge Knott’s courtroom—and I especially liked how it comes to a unique conclusion. But author Margaret Maron chose to focus mostly on Deborah’s large family—with all of her nieces and nephews coming and going—adding a bit of confusion to the whole thing.

However, the story becomes more interesting when we’re allowed inside Deputy Dwight Bryant’s head as he investigates the death of the cheerleader—and then the plot gets slightly darker.

Also, the author (who lived in New York for a while before moving back to North Carolina) often confused me with her use of some words. For example, she used the word “won’t” in sentences where it didn’t make any sense—or at least not until I realized that her characters were actually supposed to be saying “wasn’t” without the “s” sound. We southerners do tend to speak a different dialect and leave out letters in some words when we talk, and since I was born and raised in the South, I was able to figure it out—but anyone outside the South might not. Still, Ms. Maron does get credit for spelling “y’all” correctly.

I enjoyed Christmas Mourning because the setting and atmosphere felt familiar to me. These characters could live down the road from me (nosey busy-bodies and good Christian folk and all). Though the mystery is simple, and it stays mostly in the background, I’d still read another Judge Deborah Knott mystery just for the characters.

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