THE CLUES ARE NOT OBVIOUS
This British police procedural, the second in Martha Grimes’ Richard Jury series, is not only written in the early 1980’s, it takes place in that time frame also. Therefore, no cell phones, no computers, no Internet, and no DNA testing exist to speed things up or save the day. Our protagonist and his compatriots must solve the murder the old-fashioned way with paper and pencil, personal interviews, attentive visual observation, open-mindedness, logic and cunning.
The novel begins in a rather unique way. In the first 15 pages are 5 separate scenes. The first scene details the events a few minutes prior to the murder and the murder itself from the victim’s point of view. The second and third scenes detail the exact same time frame from the viewpoints of two other residents of the village as their time lines momentarily intersect with the victim. The fourth scene is the finding of the body and a nasty, bloody find it is. The fifth scene details the arrival of the local detective inspector who will have to, unwillingly, cede control of the investigation to Scotland Yard and Detective Chief Inspector (soon to be Superintendent) Richard Jury.
While the opening scenes may be quite dramatic, the remainder of the book is quite deliberate and convoluted. It is a cerebral walk through innuendoes, lies, secrets and past lives. Late in the book, finally picking up on one discrepancy in a minor character’s story, I got my first feel toward the murderer’s identity. And while I did get that correct, I missed the motivation completely.
This novel is also a walk through a northern seacoast village whose culture and language are a far cry from those of London, not only for the reader but for Jury himself. Both the dialect and the colloquialisms of the village culture gave me a rough time throughout the book. I finally gave up on the dictionary and simply read for general effect in those areas. While the dialect was somewhat capable of being decoded, the many references tied specifically to the sport of fox hunting and the thatching of roofs were practically impenetrable. It’s almost as if the author was being deliberately heavy handed, trying to show off to the reader and/or prove the depth of her research.
Locale aside, Grimes writes novels that are character-driven. Jury is not the stereotypical cop who bullies his witnesses and suspects; he is the cop who uses patience and research to quietly trip them up. He treats his coworkers with respect and knows how to shut up and turn the other cheek when respect is not an option. He is a man who surreptitiously helps those abused by power or neglect. And he is a man who hovers just on the edge of clinical depression. Wiggins, while a hypochondriac, has a penchant for detail and organization and is thus a useful sergeant for Jury. And Plant, the earl who renounced his title and who wants to be a detective, seems destined to become Jury’s best friend.
Grimes also writes novels that are character-based, rather than situational. The major characters of Jury, Plant and Wiggins have traveled from the first novel to this one. They are written in three-dimension, clearly drawn physically and intellectually, with more and more hints to their emotional makeup provided. Their experiences in the past novel significantly flavor their responses and interpretations in this tale, and they are appearing to become something of a team.
What Grimes does not write is action-adventure. However, this novel is not a cozy or a beach read either. The murder is violent and intricately motivated even if it is solved by brains rather than brawn. And Grimes makes the murder part of this novel a standalone situation – begun, processed and solved in one book with no major plot threads hanging on to fuel a future plot line.
However, even when cliffhangers are not involved, novels in a series are always best read in order. This series is no exception since previous situations are referenced but not explained. And, oh, by the way, when you have finished the last page of the book, go back and read those first 5 scenes again.
Cover Art from Goodreads