My rating: 3 of 5 stars
All the usual elements of a Martha Grimes mystery are here - the sleepy and quirky English village where everybody knows everybody's business; the beautiful women who are attracted to Superintendent Richard Jury and he to them; the hypochondriacal but indispensable Sgt. Wiggins; Jury's civilian sidekick Melrose Plant; the charming children; and, of course, the animals.
It is the animals that are at first the center of this mystery in the village of Ashdown Dean. Something terrible is happening to the pets of the community. Several have disappeared and some have later been found dead. The pets have a champion in the person of fifteen-year-old Carrie Fleet who lives on the estate of the "Baroness" and operates a pet sanctuary there. She rescues them whenever she can - sometimes at the point of a shotgun.
One of the animals that she unfortunately wasn't able to rescue was a dog belonging to the local post mistress. The dog is later found in the woman's garden shed - dead from poison. The event is almost enough to cause a fatal shock to the dog's elderly owner who has a heart condition. A few nights later the woman's telephone goes out and she walks up the hill to the public call box to make a call.
Mystery writer Polly Praed is in town, staying at the local B and B, which doesn't have telephone service for its guests. She walks to the booth to make her call, opens the door and the elderly woman's dead body falls out of the booth at her feet. She is questioned by the local constable and she calls her friend Melrose Plant for help. Melrose, in turn, calls Richard Jury and they both descend upon Ashdown Dean.
At first the dead woman appears to have died of natural causes, but Jury is suspicious and begins to ask questions and investigate further. Soon, the mystery deepens when another local woman, the wife of the local pub owner who was a bit free with her sexual favors, dies under strange circumstances. Again, there is no obvious cause of death other than natural, but it all seems just a little too convenient.
In the course of asking questions, Jury discovers another mystery - Carrie Fleet. It seems that the Baroness "discovered" her in London where she was a child living with a family in rather squalid circumstances, but she was not a member of that family. She had been found wandering in a park with a head wound and apparent amnesia. She couldn't say who she was or where she came from. She couldn't even remember her name and chose "Carrie Fleet" on her own.
The Baroness gave the family a thousand pounds for Carrie and took her home to Ashdown Dean where she has lived since. The irascible Baroness is quite fond of her and nobody else and, as much as she cares for anybody other than animals, Carrie seems to care for her. Jury is intrigued by her history and determines to discover who she is and where she came from. As luck would have it, Carrie's history turns out to be at the center of the Ashdown Dean mysteries and the ultimate reason for the deaths of two people.
I was quite enjoying this book up until about the last third and then the whole thing just kind of petered out for me. I couldn't really get too excited about the ending. Still, overall, it was another pleasant entry in the Richard Jury series.
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