Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Man with a Load of Mischief by Martha Grimes: A review

The Man with a Load of MischiefThe Man with a Load of Mischief by Martha Grimes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've decided to give myself a treat with my summer reading by indulging mostly in my guilty pleasures - that is to say mysteries. And in so doing, I plan to delve into some of the series which I haven't sampled before, starting with Martha Grimes' Inspector Richard Jury series.

This has been recommended to me at various times over the years, but, for some reason, I just never got into it. Maybe because I was busy reading several other series. But time to break new ground and meet some new characters.

One would think that a book featuring a New Scotland Yard detective inspector as its main character would be a police procedural type, but this, I think, falls more in the "cozy" category. While Inspector Jury may be the main character, the story is set in a small village and there are various eccentric villagers who "assist the police in their inquiries," and we see much of the story through their eyes.

The village is Long Piddleton - Long Pidd to the locals. It is a quaint little place that has recently been discovered by Londoners seeking a refuge from the hurly burly of city life. It is a village where nothing of note ever happens. And then the murders start.

First, the body of a stranger to the village is found with his head stuck in a barrel of beer in the cellar of one of the village pubs. But before he was put in the barrel, he was strangled with a wire. This all happened while the pub was busy with patrons, but nobody saw a thing.

Within twenty-four hours, another body is found at another village pub - this one stuck on a beam over the pub's name sign. And then the whole thing just gets silly. People are dropping like flies and there are few clues to indicate what is going on.

The thing is that all of the victims at first are supposedly unknown to the villagers and seem to have no connection to Long Pidd. But Jury is quite sure that there must be a connection if only he can find it.

One of Long Piddleton's own, Melrose Plant, a former lord who gave up his title, then finds another dead body. But this one breaks the pattern. It is a local girl, maid to the vicar, who had recently left town (she said) to visit her family. Plant becomes fascinated by the murders and turns into an amateur sleuth, helping Inspector Jury root out the source of evil in his village. Comic relief is provided by Plant's overbearing Aunt Agatha who fancies herself a modern-day Miss Marple.

In fact, one of the most fun things about this book was its gentle humor. Several of the characters are quirky to the point of peculiarity and they provide a lot of leavening for this essentially straightforward tale of greed gone wild.

I found The Man with a Load of Mischief  to be a very light and pleasant read, almost perfect for a summer day. True, the last 15% or so of the book began to drag just a bit, after Jury had already solved the mystery and the culprit had been arrested, but, overall, I enjoyed it and I'm moving on to the second entry in the series. There are twenty-three Inspector Richard Jury books in total and I expect to continue reading my way through them in coming months and years. Fun times ahead!    



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