Reading Maron is like settling into a familiar family gathering, people with deep roots in an area where generations have trod the land and passed along the stories, some of which remain shrouded in secrecy. These are people with ties to North Carolina, with long memories and complicated bloodlines, place as much a character in the tale as those who inhabit Long Upon the Land. Many of the characters have recurring roles: Judge Deborah Knott; her husband, the sheriff’s chief deputy, Dwight Bryant; Deborah’s many brothers; and her widower father, Kezzie Knott, once an infamous bootlegger, now more respectable but with a colorful history and a few enemies. When a dead body is found on Kezzie’s land, Dwight is on the scene to begin a thorny investigation, one that will lead to suspicions of Kezzie’s involvement in the death of Vick Earp, or possibly Deborah’s brothers.
Judge Knott has every intention of staying clear of her husband’s case, nearing the end of her assigned criminal court duties and about to be assigned domestic cases. But she can’t resist making inquiries when rumors surface
of either her father or brothers in the crime. In any case, Judge Knott has more on her plate the Earp’s death, her curiosity piqued about her parents’ courtship and marriage, an unlikely, mismatched couple who met near the end of World War II. Deborah’s mother, Sue Stephenson, was an educated young woman bred to marry a man of like background. Yet Sue breaks from tradition and expectations to marry Kezzie Knott, with his passel of motherless sons, an enterprising if uneducated purveyor of moonshine and an eye for land. In possession of a lighter from a serviceman who gave Sue the courage to change her life, Deborah wants to learn about the man who carried the lighter, what happened to him after the war, and what he told her mother that inspired her to flout tradition for the man she loved.
The result is a charming blend of past and present, mystery and history, the facts behind Earp’s violent death and Sue’s short friendship with a man who inspired her to follow her heart and marry Kezzie in spite of her family’s arguments against their union. Shifting between Dwight’s discoveries, including Earp’s strained family relationships and personal conflicts (Kezzie among them) and Sue’s romantic love story with Kezzie Knott, Maron captures the essence of place and people with insight, humor and compassion. It is a tangled tale from the start, a mystery salted with multiple suspects, a life gone tragically wrong contrasted with a love story that marries one family to another to the benefit of both and the melding of generations sharing the same connections to the land. There is great comfort to be found in the confident sense of place, even with the insertion of an unfortunate death, the resilience of family ameliorating losses with its wide embrace and the shared affection of generations.