Shooting at Loons by Margaret Maron is the third in her Deborah Knott mystery series and in this book Deborah has been sent pro tem to Beaufort (pronounced BOW - fort, not BYEW - fort like that other place down in South Carolina) to fill in for a judge who is ill. She has a cousin who has a small house on Harkers Island where she can stay. Her neighbors, whom she knows well because she vacationed there every summer when she was a child, are natives of the island some of whose families have been living and fishing there since the 1720s.
Shortly after she arrives a neighbor takes her out on the water and they find the body of another neighbor, Andy Bynum, on a sandbank. Andy owns a menhaden processing plant and is a member of a committee of developers, vacationers, fishermen, and environmentalists who are trying to work out compromises that keep everyone happy. That is impossible to do in a very old but now quickly changing area like the Crystal Coast, which is what they call this beautiful area, and there are bitter feuds between these people.
Next door to the cottage is a volatile old timer, Mahlon Davis, who is building a traditional island fishing boat in his yard. But the boat is partly on the vacant lot that has been bought by the most active developer, Linville Pope. She is threatening to have all of Mahlon's years of collected junk removed from the lot, including the boat. She is also threatening to build a boat storage facility and docks next to a beautiful mid-19th century house that the owners have completely restored. She wants to buy a fish processing plant that has been in the owner's family for generations and which employs local men. She insists that she is not threatening, just stating facts. Those facts can change if people agree to do what she wants, sell her what she wants to buy for shoreline development.
We see Deborah in court handling traffic and other non-felony cases and it is as entertaining as it was in her last book, Southern Discomfort. She is enjoying the ocean and the seafood and catching up with old friends from the area. Until another body is discovered and she is in the thick of the search for the murderer.
Once again I think this book is even better than the earlier ones, and they were very good. A clever series with lots of Southern charm, local color, food, and North Carolina hospitality.