My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Child abduction. Human trafficking. Pedophilia. Child murder. Martha Grimes' series of so-called "cozy" mysteries has certainly taken a turn to the dark side with the last two or three entries that I've read. None has been darker than this one, number 19, The Winds of Change.
It starts with the inexplicable murder of a tiny girl. Found cast aside like garbage on a London street, she's five or six years old and nameless. No one immediately comes forward to claim her. She has been shot in the back. Who would want to murder a small child?
Superintendent Richard Jury begins his investigation and soon learns that there is a pedophilia ring operating in the area. A number of small girls are kept prisoner in a house to serve the sick desires of some of the local upstanding businessmen, but police have been unable to gather the evidence needed for probable cause to raid the house and break up the ring. (This began to remind me of one of Anne Perry's Victorian mysteries revolving around the victimization of women and children.)
In the middle of his investigation, Jury is called by his friend, Commander Brian Macalvie, to come and help him with another mystery. It's the murder of a young woman, killed on the grounds of a country estate. She, too, is anonymous, as her body was found with no identification.
It soon emerges that the man who owns the estate where she was killed has been dogged by tragedy. His stepdaughter, whom he adored, had apparently been kidnapped three years before, although no ransom demand was ever received. Moreover, several months after that happened, the child's mother, his wife, died from a heart condition. And who do you think is the child's father? Well, it is none other than the chief pedophile of that odious ring in London. Surely, all of this must be connected.
Once again, Jury deploys his friend Melrose Plant as an undercover agent on the county estate. This time he poses as a "turf specialist" to assist in the renovation of the gardens of the estate. And once again, Melrose encounters an odd and charming child, a little girl, and her equally odd and charming dog, both of whom live on the estate. Some things never change in a Grimes mystery. Although some readers might find this tiresome after a while, I actually enjoy these quirky child and animal characters of hers. They bring a touch of lightness and reality to her plots.
And this plot certainly needed a little lightness. There's not much time spent drinking and trading quips with the Long Piddleton crew at the old Jack and Hammer in this one, and there's precious little Cyril the Cat, nemesis of Jury's boss, Chief Superintendent Racer, and therefore loved by Jury and Racer's secretary, Fiona. No, it definitely leans toward the dark side. But it was an intriguing read, even though the plot had a few holes and the solution to the central mystery actually became pretty evident by about two-thirds of the way through. It proved to be another satisfying chapter in the Richard Jury saga.
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