Margaret Maron's Judge Knott series is like a homecoming--even though I'm a Midwest girl, born and raised, not a Southerner. Maron has a way of weaving family, folklore and Carolina mores and manners into her mysteries to create an intriguing--and somehow warm--blend of mystery and charm.
In this book Judge Deborah Knott and her new husband, Deputy Dwight Bryant, are involved in a ghastly murder of a local businessman. The characters that Deborah meets from her bench and Dwight from his patrol vehicle intersect and play off one another. Maron is adept at unwinding the clues bit by bit, revealing enough with each bit to keep you interested but not so much that you know the murderer long before the tale is told.
Family is important in these mysteries. Deborah is one of many children (the irony of a former bootlegger's daughter becoming a judge is not lost on Deborah or anyone else in Collaton County) and the lives of her many brothers and their families is woven through the stories. Dwight's son, Cal, is now living with them, following the death of his mother (see "Winter's Child," 2006) and he adds a new dimension to the family and to Deborah's relationship with Dwight and her own brothers.
Though the method of murder in this is pretty ghastly it isn't described in horrible, gruesome detail. The blood and guts isn't the focus of the story, rather the people involved and the circumstances of their lives within the context of the modern South drive the tenor of the tale. If you like an intelligent mystery, with character and family and setting as important components, you'll like Hard Row, and all of Maron's books.