My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Back to one of my guilty reading pleasures as a break from some of the more serious reading I've done lately. Martha Grimes' Richard Jury series fits the bill for that. I must say though that this time the reading was more guilt than pleasure. Guilt, as in "Why am I wasting my time reading this?"
This is the 21st entry in this series. We are nearing the end. I believe there are a couple left, although Grimes may write more. In such a long series, one expects hits and misses. I would put this one more on the "miss" side. In the end, I gave it a VERY generous three stars, mostly for old time's sake; in actuality, it probably deserved two-and-a-half at best.
The first problem with the book is its plot. A young man is shot to death on the balcony of his room at a trendy Clerkenwell hotel. The body is discovered by young Benny Keegan who is working at the hotel. Benny and his dog Sparky once saved Richard Jury's life and Jury is a friend so Benny calls him. So, even though it's not technically a Scotland Yard case, Jury comes to the scene and gets involved.
And, boy, does he get involved! We learn before he goes to the scene that he is having an affair with Dr. Phyllis Nancy, the pathologist, but when he arrives at the murder scene, he meets Inspector Lu Aguilar of the Islington police who is in charge. Inspector Aguilar is a looker. Moreover, she is originally from Brazil and is a hot-blooded, passionate, Latin woman, whom Jury takes to his apartment and has raucous, furniture-destroying, neighbor-disturbing sex with, straight from the crime scene. And his bed is not even yet cool from his night with Dr. Nancy! This is not the Richard Jury I've come to know over the past 20 books and I did not like him very much.
Neither did I like the portrait of the hot-blooded Brazilian inspector painted by Grimes. Really, Martha? Stereotype much?
Anyway, back to the murder victim who seemed to have been an inoffensive and quite generous rich guy, patron of the arts, who had no enemies. Who could possibly want him dead?
The convoluted plot which Grimes spins reaches back to World War II and long smoldering hatreds, but it seems to take forever to develop and it is only close to the end that we begin to get a glimmer of an inkling as to what might have precipitated the murder. Even then, it seems most unlikely.
There is a secondary plot line involving the works of Henry James. The murder victim had recently been the resident caretaker of the National Trust's James property in Rye, Sussex, a place called Lamb House where James lived and wrote what are considered his three best books. Jury, as per usual, enlists the aid of his friend, millionaire Melrose Plant, to go to Lamb House and take over the caretaker's post until a new one can be selected, and to keep his eyes and ears open and see what can be learned. In that capacity, Plant finally supplies the key that opens up the solution to the case.
Speaking of Plant naturally brings up the little village of Long Piddleton where he lives and which is where we first encounter him in this story. Long Piddleton and the louche group of Long Piddletonians, Plant's friends, who gather at the Jack and Hammer at 11:00 and 6:00 every day to drink copious amounts of booze and speak ill of all their neighbors. I confess I used to find them amusing but now I am thoroughly bored with them and irritated by them. Do they serve any purpose in life other than getting drunk and making fun of people? It doesn't seem so.
So, what did I like about the book? Well, the children and the animals. Grimes is always at her best when writing about them. Cyril the Cat is still a star and I still like Melrose Plant even though I'm annoyed by his entourage. And Sgt. Wiggins, who has grown on me over the years. I enjoyed the Henry James references that I was able to understand. Unfortunately, I'm not that familiar with his work, having only read a couple of his books, and perhaps if I were better read in the oeuvre, I might have enjoyed this book more.
Nah. Probably not.
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