Sunday, January 16, 2011

Bootlegger's Daughter Study Guide

[Beginning last week with comments about Bloody Kin, I will be devoting this space to study guides for my books. If you have particular questions about any of the books, please click the contact button and let me know.]

This book introduces Deborah Knott, Attorney-at-Law and candidate for district court judge in eastern NC’s Colleton County. She is the youngest child and only daughter of Kezzie Knott, once a notorious bootlegger who ran white lightening up and down the eastern coast from Canada to Florida. She has eleven older brothers, all of whom have been married at least once, some three times.

When the book opens, she and her father are estranged. He was not happy that she studied law and he thinks a district court judge has to hear too many sordid cases to make it a fit career for the daughter he always wanted to shelter from the world’s harsh realities. As the primaries approach, though, Deborah’s campaign takes a back seat when a teenage girl asks her to discover why her mother was murdered eighteen years ago.

Local politics vie with small-town rivalries and long-buried secrets. This book was the first (and so far, only) to win an Edgar, an Agatha, an Anthony, and a Macavity in the same year.


Q: What was the inspiration for Bootlegger's Daughter?

A: I had written a series of mysteries based on my NYC experiences and I wanted to set a separate series in my native state. To do that, I had to try to make the new Deborah Knott character as different as I could from Lt. Sigrid Harald, NYPD. Reporters and attorneys had been done to death, but no one had written about a woman judge before. Because Sigrid was a loner with only a mother, a grandmother, and a handful of cousins, I gave Deborah a large rowdy family. Sigrid liked art and music and was fairly intellectural. Deborah likes Willie and Waylon and the boys. Sigrid is uncomfortable and awkward with interpersonal relationships, D is comfortable in her skin and has never seen a tight pair of male jeans she didn't like, etc.

Another reason to make her a district court judge was so that I could send her across the state and look at various aspects of North Carolina as it transitions from rural agrarian to increasingly urban high-tech.

Q: Is Deborah Knott's character similar to someone you know?

A: Not really. There may be stray aspects of many of my friends and acquaintances, but she really is a composite.

Q: If you were a member of our club what questions would you like to discuss about Bootlegger’s Daughter?

A: Since the book also focuses on grassroots politics, in light of the last election, just how much attention did club members give to any of the judicial candidates? Especially now that more and more judges run as "non-partisan" candidates. Did anyone look to see what their previous party affiliations were?


1. What roles do Deborah’s internal Preacher and Pragmatist play? Why does she think of them as male instead of female?

2. How does the Knott clan contrast with the Vickerys?

3. Running for a local office means going out and meeting voters one on one. How would you handle being questioned about your religion or your views on alcohol?

4. What role does religion play in this book?

5. What are the family values?

6. There seem to be many secrets in this story, especially about sexual/romantic relationships. Why is that?

7. Do you think this book accurately reflects current Southern culture?

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