UNCOMMON CLAY by Margaret Maron
Mysterious Press - May, 2001
ISBN: 089296720X - Hardcover
Amateur Sleuth Mystery
Some sexual situations

Reviewed by Susan McBride, MyShelf.com
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UNCOMMON CLAY is quite the appropriate title for Margaret Maron's eighth Deborah Knott mystery as it focuses on troubles at a pottery dynasty ruled by the Nordans in North Carolina's Randolph County. Knott initially gets dragged into the troubles of the Nordan family when she's picked to preside over the equitable distribution of marital property in the divorce of James Lucas Nordan, son of pottery scion Amos Nordan, and Sandra Kay Nordan. It all seems simple enough until Knott actually meets the Nordan clan and wonders if some of the lead from the red glazes once used to color their wares hasn't gone to their heads. James and Sandra squabble aloud in a local diner the night before the court session, mentioning secrets held over one another, so that even the visiting Judge Knott overhears. Then James turns up dead, glazed with red on his hands and face and burned in his own kiln, just before his and Sandra's priceless collection of Nordan pottery is to be divided.

Knott stumbles onto another bit of family history that's ripe for an amateur sleuth's picking: that James's younger brother, Donny had been found dead two years ago. Supposedly, he'd accidentally hung himself, but the actual scene of the crime apparently hinted at autoerotic asphyxiation. Maron puts in enough facts about North Carolina pottery that I felt I could pull out a wheel and go to it myself. The characters in UNCOMMON CLAY are near as toxic as the old red glaze and as fragile as ceramics. Maron's writing is smooth as ever, but the Nordans were such an ornery group that I actually hoped the killer would succeed in offing the whole clan before the book's end, though I had to settle for just a handful.