Last Lessons of Summer
The inside jacket description of Margaret Maron's sensational
mystery novel LAST LESSONS OF SUMMER refers to her as being the
modern-day equivalent of legendary Southern writer Margaret
Mitchell, who penned GONE WITH THE WIND and won the 1937 Pulitzer
Prize for best fiction.
Although the comparison remains open to argument, Maron's LAST
LESSONS OF SUMMER does strike a familiar chord with Mitchell's
literary masterpiece by providing memorable characters and the many
nuances of living below the Mason-Dixon Line. Like Mitchell, Maron
has deep southern roots and is a highly acclaimed mystery writer.
She has won numerous awards for her Deborah Knott and Sigrid Harald
But LAST LESSONS OF SUMMER isn't a serial novel. Rather it is a
compelling murder mystery featuring Amy Steadman, a recent newlywed
from New York City who returns to North Carolina in an attempt to
investigate the grizzly murder of her grandmother, Frances,
patriarch of the Barbour publishing empire. Along the way, she also
looks at her beloved mother's apparent suicide and experiences
swirling family angst over inheritance issues.
Before the novel begins, Maron masterfully introduces to her
readers a simple family tree that aids in following the story.
Without a doubt, you will find it pressing not to flip back to the
family tree as you read.
Maron is extremely gifted in providing tension, intrigue and drama
in this 295-page whodunit. There is also a measure of romantic
overtones, as Amy fights the notion of a cheating husband and a
sudden attraction to the local detective investigating her
While LAST LESSONS OF SUMMER is well worth reading, Maron could
have delved more deeply into the psyche of her characters,
especially her main protagonist Amy. By the end of the story,
readers may feel that they have just begun to understand Amy and
her somewhat dysfunctional clan, which is why I wish Maron had not
cut to the chase so quickly.
In addition, Maron needs to work on her description of North
Carolina. Everybody realizes the weather is hot within the confines
of Tobacco Road. She could have also dug a little deeper into the
description of Raleigh. The book's story takes place in North
Carolina, but unfortunately Maron's initial landscape of Amy's
surroundings just doesn't evoke a memorable setting.
Despite these problems, LAST LESSONS OF SUMMER does leave you
guessing --- and that is mystery writing at its best.
Reviewed by David Exum on January 22, 2011