My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Well into Martha Grimes' Richard Jury series, one finds the quality of each individual book sometimes a bit hit or miss. This one was definitely a hit for me. I enjoyed it quite a lot, even though I suspected pretty early on who the culprit(s) was(were). Or maybe it was because I figured it out pretty early and was able to watch Jury and his friend Melrose Plant struggle to the same conclusion.
It's a somewhat complicated plot with definite noir tendencies. It involves art forgery and theft, the consequences of political murder, the activities of a professional assassin, a couple of murders, and has the usual characters from Northants that we have come to expect and enjoy, as well as the London contingent of Scotland Yard, cats and dogs, Jury's neighbors, and the quirky Cripps family. Yes, all the essential elements are here and Grimes concocts a very tasty dish of them.
Jury, as always, is inexplicably lonely on a Saturday night. Such a handsome, intelligent, lovable man with a killer smile and yet, in Grimes' world, he just can't find anyone to love. Or to love him. Well, fiction is all about the suspension of disbelief, I suppose.
On a Saturday night, Jury takes a ride on a bus and notices a striking blonde woman in a sable coat. She gets on the bus, rides for a while, gets off for a while, then gets on again. When she gets off the second time, Jury decides to follow her. He follows her to an ecclesiastical palace and gardens, but does not follow her into the grounds of the place. The next day he reads in the paper that the murdered body of a blonde woman in a fur coat was found on one of the herb beds in the garden and reproaches himself that he did not continue to follow her.
The murder victim is unidentified and Jury contacts the local policeman in charge to tell him what he observed. He is asked to look at the body to see if it is the woman he saw. She is superficially like that person, but when he looks closer, he is able to see differences. It is not the same person. So, were there two blonde women in fur coats in those gardens the night before?
As usual, even though it isn't technically his case, Superintendent Richard Jury gets involved, and, as usual, he calls on his friend Melrose Plant to do some private investigating for him.
Melrose goes to London and checks into his father's old club where he meets several interesting if ossified old codgers. One of them turns out to be a former art critic. A very famous art critic. Since one of Melrose's assignments from Jury is to buy a painting at a local gallery owned by a family that had its origins in the Soviet Union, where it suffered the murder of the family patriarch, he cultivates a relationship with the critic and asks his help and advice.
It is unclear at first just what this art gallery and the family might have to do with the murdered woman, the theft of a famous Chagall painting from a museum in St. Petersburg, or an eventual second murder that takes place. The plot is made more perplexing because a second blonde woman in sable does turn up and, even though she denies it, Jury knows that she is actually the person that he saw on the bus and followed.
Well, this does all get quite intricate and confusing at times, but Grimes does a good job of blending it together and making sense of it in the end.
My only real qualm with the book was its ending. I found it unsatisfactory, but I wondered if perhaps we were left hanging because this plot is to be picked up in later books. Guess I'll just have to read them to find out.
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