Characterization (main characters), good mystery, well-written, interesting story, solid plot (good throughout).
Characterization (most are ciphers), some of the political comments might be a little off-putting
The Bottom Line:
A very good mystery, good characterization of the main characters, good story (and plot), and a good introduction to a series.
This is the first book by Margaret Maron that I have read, and the first book in the Deborah Knott series. This specific book is the winner of the Edgar, Anthony, Agatha, & Macavity Awards. There are currently (as of 2005) eleven books in the series (including a prequel to "Bootlegger's Daughter" titled "Bloody Kin" and a collection of short stories).
Deborah is a female lawyer in Colleton County, North Carolina who has decided to run in the current judicial election (and is the daughter of a noted ex-bootlegger). While Deborah is running for said election, she has also been asked by a young woman that she used to babysit, Gayle Whitehead, to look into the death of that woman's mother, Jane Whitehead, 18 years ago. Deborah talks to the people that investigated the case (the original investigation and the investigation that occurred around 1980), and talks with those that knew Jane.
Meanwhile Deborah is running in the Democratic primary (because of the nature of the county, the winner of the Democrat primary is the one that will likely become the next judge (with about an 80% probability), and tries to recover after two letters are distributed. One is on her letterhead and basically states that the voters should vote for her because her opponent is black, the other is on the black candidate's letterhead and states some negative things (like how Deborah is the daughter of a bootlegger). Both letters have a tendency to hurt her more than any of the other candidates.
At the very beginning of the book, I was concerned that I might not like the main character, and some of the plot points and dialogue that came up. As I read further, though, the book grew on me, and by the end, I rather liked the main character. The main character, and a few others, are fully developed personalities, though the lesser characters can seem a little thin (ciphers; Deborah has a fully developed character, but one of her personality traits involves internal comments about Republicans and Democrats that might be a little off-putting to some (not a big issue, basically Democrats good, Republicans bad); Deborah's law firm partners are given distinct personalities, but are mostly there to fill out the law firm; Gayle is just a young woman on the verge of going to college, and does not really have a fully realized personality in the book, the killer (who I will not disclose) has a much deeper characterization and personality than has been given to some other characters in the book(which might be a flaw, as that might indicate who the killer might be). The plot is solid, the mystery is well-designed and plausible, and the setting is well developed (really got the feeling I was there in Colleton County, North Carolina). Overall, I would give the book 4.40 stars out of five.