My rating: 1 of 5 stars
"Prose seems to be falling off just a bit," said Jury..."Definitely fallen off," said Jury, yawning.
Yes, even Superintendent Richard Jury seems to acknowledge it in this Martha Grimes cozy mystery. The prose has definitely fallen off. Fallen off a cliff, in fact.
When I commit to reading a book, I stick with it to the very end. Even when I find myself skimming rapidly over sections of it because the writing is so bad. That certainly happened with this book. Frankly, it was one of those times when I seriously considered breaking my rule and quitting the book halfway or three-quarters of the way through, but I did persevere and managed to make it through to the bitter end. I deserve a medal for that.
What was Grimes thinking? What was she hoping to accomplish with this convoluted story? It has so many plots and counterplots that it is impossible to keep them all straight. Indeed, they are all so uninteresting that there is no incentive for trying to keep them all straight. I write this as one who has pretty much enjoyed the Inspector/Superintendent Richard Justice series up until now - some books more than others certainly - but it pains me to say that this one is a real stinker.
The book starts in England, with Justice growing increasingly restive in his position and considering a move out of London, possibly to one of the provinces. He's considering where there are job openings, where he might like to work, and who he might like to work with. Macalvie, maybe?
But then the story moves off on a tangent.
The nephew of a titled lady has been killed in Philadelphia and Justice is persuaded to cross the ocean and liaise with the Philadelphia police to investigate. Since he is currently on leave, he is able to accomplish this, but he also decides to take Sgt. Wiggins along with him "on holiday" because, after all, who is Justice without Wiggins?
And who is Justice without Melrose Plant?
Fortuitously, Melrose receives a call from an American friend, living in Baltimore, teaching at Johns Hopkins. A student of hers has recently been murdered on January 19, Edgar Allen Poe's birthday, near Poe's grave. The student had recently "found" a previously unknown manuscript in a trunk that was allegedly written by Poe. For some reason, this professor needs Melrose Plant's support, so, of course, he decides to hop on the plane with Justice and Wiggins and travel to America.
Most of the action takes place in Baltimore and it involves a lot of talk about spurious documents, Poe, plagiarism, genealogy and the transmission of peerage titles down through the generations, and whether or not Baltimore will get a new football franchise since the Colts have absconded. (This book was published in 1993.) Camden Yards, the beautiful and at that time new, baseball park also comes in for a fair amount of discussion and a visit by Justice.
Most agonizingly, much of our heroes' time in Baltimore is spent reading aloud from the "Poe manuscript" and more from the plagiarized writings of Melrose's friend. It is all truly awful.
Do you get the feeling that this is all just a hopeless mish-mash, a word soup with very little spice or flavoring? Well, that about sums it up, I think. Very disappointing.
I have the next two Richard Justice mysteries still in my reading queue on my Kindle and I guess I will read them - because that's what I do. But I'm going to give myself a break from Grimes for a while and hope that she had returned to her earlier, crisper writing with the next one.
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