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Last Lessons of Summer Hardcover – September, 2003

4 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Known best for her Deborah Knott novels (Slow Dollar, etc.) and her Sigrid Harald series (Fugitive Colors, etc.), Edgar-winner Maron has produced a standalone gem, set in North Carolina's Piedmont country, that focuses on a large matriarchal family. Amy Steadman, a toy company executive in New York City, returns to her Southern roots one steamy August after inheriting a fortune from her murdered maternal grandmother, Frances Barbour. Aided by Beth, her pouty younger half-sister, Amy sorts through furniture, books and other personal items in Grandma Frances's summer house, where Amy's mother, Maxie, committed suicide when Amy was three. Amy is determined to find out what was really behind her mother's death-and her grandmother's, too. Amy's many kinfolk, who pass in and out of the house, seem as kind and gentle as can be, but one of them is decidedly dangerous. Cousin Curt is poisoned with jimson weed seeds cooked into a jar of preserves, and another tainted jar turns up in Amy's refrigerator. Maron has a faultless ear for Southern speech, dotting her dialogue with regionalisms like "I might could have." A feast of clues and red herrings, the book builds to a climax that hits like a hot bullet blast. With oodles of characters to keep straight, readers will find the family tree at the start an essential guide.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

This is a stand-alone mystery from the author of the popular Judge Deborah Knott series. Fans of the Knott series will want to read Maron's latest, but this desultory sleuthing excursion might leave them disappointed. A New York City heiress to a toy company returns to North Carolina after her grandmother's death and, in the course of clearing the house, finds herself investigating her grandmother's murder and the suspicious death, years before, of her own mother. The writing, unfortunately, suggests an insipid teen romance. The heroine, in crisis, urges herself on with sayings from a beloved book about two stuffed animals: "What do you think, Pink? What'll we do, Blue?" Plot twists are delivered awkwardly, sometimes in artificial dialogue, as in, "Yet, three years later, she shot herself. Why, Dad?" The heroine doesn't so much solve the mystery as stand around while people decide to divulge secrets. Maron is a popular mystery author, and most library collections will need her complete works, but this one is sadly deficient. Connie Fletcher
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Series: Maron, Margaret
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Mysterious Press; First Edition edition (September 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0892967803
  • ISBN-13: 978-0892967803
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,014,072 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

MARGARET MARON is the author of twenty-seven novels and two collections of short stories. Winner of several major American awards for mysteries (Edgar, Agatha, Anthony, Macavity), her works are on the reading lists of various courses in contemporary Southern literature and have been translated into 15 languages. She has served as president of Sisters in Crime, the American Crime Writers League, and Mystery Writers of America. Visit her at www.MargaretMaron.com.

A native Tar Heel, she still lives on her family's century farm a few miles southeast of Raleigh, the setting for Bootlegger's Daughter, which is numbered among the 100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century as selected by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association. In 2004, she received the Sir Walter Raleigh Award for best North Carolina novel of the year; and in 2008, the North Carolina Award for Literature, the state's highest civilian honor. Her mystery novels feature District Court Judge Deborah Knott and are the pegs upon which she hangs her love and concern for the state.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Margaret Maron has created another great mystery that is NOT based on her wonderful Deborah Knott series.
Amy Steadman is the heir to a toy/childrens book empire left to her by her Grandmother(Francis Barbour.) Amy is an artist and wants nothing to do with the business side of the company. However, since Amy's mother Maxi committed suicide when Amy was only 3 Francis was determined that Amy's father could run the company but the ownership would remain Amy's.
The company business has been run for over 30 years by Amy's father. Now, he is talking of retirement and the step-brothers and half-sister that she's grown up with are showing some resentment for the years of knowing that she was the Heir to the vast empire they all had grown up with.
Amy's recent marriage is having problems and it's only adding to the pressure she's under. Amy doesn't like confrontation so after her Grandmother's murder she's offered a large sum of money to sell the southern home her Grandmother inhabited in the later years of her life with her Grandfather in North Carolina.
Amy decides that she wants some answers not only to the death of Francis but of the secrets behind the suicide of her mother years before. It's the perfect excuse for her to escape her problems and hopefully get some of the answers that everyone has made a point of making her forget over these years. Afraid of sending movers to go through boxes of personal items she heads off to clear the house out herself.
She arrives to a family full of secrets and a murderer still out there and now threatening Amy.
Her half-sister Beth runs away from her own problems with the family and shows up on her doorstep with tales of woe of her own.
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Format: Hardcover
I'm on Tape 2 of the unabridged audio version, and find myself unable to continue. It was very difficult to keep the characters straight when they were all introduced at the business meeting (no family tree on tape!). However, I kinda managed to get past that. My problem is the mystery angle; I just don't care who offed the old lady! These are stock characters to me, with a bit of melodrama thrown in.

I can fully understand the author's wanting to branch out beyond Judge Knott (whose books I really like). This effort seemed a slightly wishy-washy way of doing so in having a similar enough protagonist and being set in the same area as the Knott series.
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Format: Hardcover
I am a huge fan of Margaret Maron's Deborah Knott series, and I totally enjoyed this book. Some of the Knott series characters make appearances in this book as well, but the main characters are all new. I read this book while on vacation, and was disappointed I didn't save more of it to read on the airplane ride home...so I reread the last 4 chapters! Is this the best Margaret Maron book that I've read? Well, no. But it was fun, and like her other books set in North Carolina, you feel immersed in the sweet Southern charm of the "Old North State!"
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Format: Hardcover
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 serial novels.
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 grandmother's murder.
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.
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Format: Hardcover
I was sorry that the talented Ms. Margaret Maron decided to make this book a mystery rather than a multigenerational family saga. The family part of the story is rich in many dimensions, including intrigue, emotion, improper behavior and a struggle for power. Perhaps the richest and most intriguing dimension is that a major family fortune rests on the slight imagination of one young child.
We enter into the story as a member of the third generation, Ms. Amy Steadman, decides to flee to North Carolina to clean out the home in which her grandmother was recently murdered before agreeing to sell the property. It turns out that not all is smooth in Amy's life, despite her wealth. Amy is suspicious of her husband's lack of interest in her, dislikes her father's philandering, finds her siblings to be awkward to deal with, misses her Mom who committed suicide when Amy was small, and finds her myriad relatives to be confusing in their behavior.
All of this takes a more sinister turn when Amy begins receiving threatening telephone calls . . . and finds herself in danger. What will this sheltered woman do to protect herself and her family? What dark secrets are being hidden?
I found the mystery to have two serious drawbacks. First, this book is way overpopulated with characters who are in Amy's family. Thankfully, Ms. Maron provides a family tree in the beginning. But I couldn't seem to remember who was who because there are so many of them. Do you really want to keep track of 30 plus people in one family? I found most of them to be hard to distinguish in any way that added to the story.
Second, the mystery itself is only marginally mysterious enough to require any thought. I found that the ending was telegraphed in way too many ways . . . and too much too long to develop.
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