(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Margaret Maron’s Sigrid Harald novels are best read in order of their publication. The reader who starts with a later book in the series does so without the benefit of considerable backstory regarding Sigrid Harald and her motivations for her actions. When Maron began her series about the New York Police Department (NYPD) homicide detective with One Coffee With, she portrayed her as an awkward and painfully shy young woman, inept at dealing with her emotions, thus allowing Maron plenty of room to show her character’s personal growth. The solitary Sigrid grows into a more confident woman, who dresses differently, views herself differently, and has a new understanding of her parents’ influence in her life. She has a lover as well as friends.

After One Coffee With, Maron wrote six more Sigrid Harald novels between 1984 and 1991, then let four years lapse before publishing Fugitive Colors (1995). That novel included a tragic accident involving Oscar Nauman, a major character in the series, leaving Sigrid despondent and readers shocked. By that time, Maron had already started her second series. She has said she plans to write at least one additional Sigrid Harald novel.

Although Sigrid is a police officer in a big city, the novels are not typical police procedurals. Maron has referred to her character as a sleuth with a badge, one who has much in common with an amateur detective but who has a legitimate reason for being involved in solving a murder case. The emphasis in Maron’s novels is on character development, mood, and setting rather than on the investigative process followed by the police in identifying and finding the murderer, and the presentation of the solution to the crime is like that in classically plotted puzzle mysteries.

One Coffee With

The primary setting of One Coffee With is the campus of the fictional Vanderlyn College in the middle of New York City, specifically in the art department. The cramped departmental office always has people coming and going. One morning someone has put a spoonful of poison in Professor Ripley Quinn’s coffee, killing him. Lieutenant Sigrid Harald, the only female homicide detective in the precinct, interviews faculty and staff and learns that Professor Quinn and Professor Oscar Nauman, the department chair, both used sugar in their coffee. Their cups were placed next to each other, so the intended victim is not clear. Almost certainly the perpetrator was someone involved with the department. The puzzle is which of the limited suspects, all of whom potentially had motive, means, and opportunity, actually committed the murder. Sigrid must use her insights into the psychology of those involved and deduce which clues are relevant.

The Deborah Knott Series

Maron’s style throughout the Deborah Knott series is much more relaxed than in her Sigrid Harald series. The language is colloquial, the emphasis on place more dominant, and the main character easy for most readers to identify with and enjoy. The murder mystery plot is less dominant than the depiction of the lives of those living through changing times in the South.

Judge Deborah Knott frames the Old South through the eyes of a modern career woman....

(The entire section is 1339 words.)