Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Gone Is the “Gracious” Maron

Today brings this announcement: “It is with great sadness that the family of mystery writer Margaret Brown Maron announces her death on February 23, 2021, from complications due to stroke.” Maron was best known for penning two crime-fiction series: one starring Judge Deborah Knott, an attorney and the daughter of a notorious North Carolina bootlegger; the other built around Lieutenant Sigrid Harald, a homicide detective with the New York City Police Department.

The author was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, back in 1938. She attended colleges in her home state as well as in New York, “yet managed not to graduate from any of them,” as the aforementioned obituary explains; wed a U.S. naval officer in the late 1950s; lived in Italy and Brooklyn for years, the latter of which being where she composed her first short story, published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine in 1968; and moved with her family back to North Carolina in 1972. Maron went on to write some 30 novels and dozens more short stories. Her work was recognized for its realistic portrayals of working women, its sympathetic depictions of family relationships, and of course, its wide-ranging tours of her beloved Tar Heel State. As Maron told the North Carolina Star-News—with a chuckle—during the fall of 2002, “I did have one reader in Wisconsin who wrote that he was never going to buy one of my books again, since it was clear I was in the pay of the North Carolina tourism department.”

For her storytelling efforts, Maron was gifted with Edgar, Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. In 2013, she and fellow writer Ken Follett were named as Grand Masters by the Mystery Writers of America (MWA). She was among the founders and earliest presidents of the Sisters in Crime organization, and in 2005 she took on duties as president of the MWA. Her first Knott novel, 1992’s Bootlegger’s Daughter, numbers among the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association’s “100 Favorite Mysteries of the 20th Century.”

(Above) Margaret Maron, in front, with fellow author Sarah R. Shaber at Bouchercon 2015. (Photo © 2015 by Ali Karim.)

I had only a single opportunity to meet Margaret Maron, during the 2015 Bouchercon convention, held in Raleigh, North Carolina. She was altogether charming and unpretentious and damnably hard not to like at first encounter. But others were much better acquainted with her, both personally and professionally. For instance, her longtime friend Kaye Wilkinson Barley writes in her blog, Meanderings and Musings, that “Margaret Maron was loved, admired, and respected in the mystery community, and she will never be forgotten. She was always accessible, always ready to reach out to new writers and always happy to meet her readers. And always humble. And always, always gracious.” Barley includes in her post links to several pieces—“about everything from her mother's cookbook to over-sexed pine trees”—that Maron contributed to Meanderings and Musings over the years.

Meanwhile, in a piece for Shotsmag Confidential, Mike Ripley recalls meeting Maron for the first time during the 1990 Bouchercon held in London, England. “I arranged a private tour of the House of Commons for her and she gave me a T-shirt,” he says, “which I still have, to induct me as an associate Sister in Crime—an honour I think only Robert Barnard and I held at the time. It was the start of a friendship which was to span more than thirty years.”

Mystery Fanfare’s Janet Rudolph remembers Maron, at conventions, as “always so friendly, including [with] people in her panels and chats in the lobby, bar, or book room. When she finally made it to one of my Literary Salons here on the West Coast, she not only gave a great talk, but she identified a special spider that was spinning a web ‘behind my garden gate.’ Who knew she was an expert on arachnia? Margaret was a woman of many talents and interests. She was smart, witty, funny, compassionate, and generous to others. … Margaret was a literary treasure and one of the nicest people I've ever known. I will miss her.”

We offer our condolences to Maron’s family as this difficult time.

(Hat tip to Lesa Holstine.)

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