Work progresses on my latest book. Tentatively titled Gate 6, Murder at Black Oaks, it is still on schedule and I believe it will be ready to publish by the end of next month (April). It’s very exciting to see it coming along. Lots of twists, turns, murder and mayhem!
I am currently reading The Train Now Departing, one of two novellas by Martha Grimes. Ms. Grimes is one of my favorite writers. I’ve read literally every book she’s written, many of them multiple times. The reason I can read them three or four times each is simply this: she writes a well-crafted story that is full of interesting, often funny and always compelling characters. She writes with sharp wit and an edge of humor that I love.
In her Richard Jury series, we are first introduced to the protagonist in Man With A Load of Mischief. The story takes place in fictitious Long Piddleton, a small cozy village in Northamptonshire England. A man’s body is found head first in a cask of ale in the cellar of the pub called Man With a Load of Mischief. This creates quite a stir but nothing compared to the finding of a second body, lying on the beam above another pub, The Jack and Hammer. Both men are strangers in the village. If no one knows them, why were they murdered in Long Piddleton?
Richard Jury and his Sergeant Al Wiggins, begin the investigation and in doing so meet many characters that become mainstays of the rest of the series: Melrose Plant, Marshall Trueblood, Vivian Rivington, Diane Demornay, Agatha (Melrose’s aunt), Mrs. Wasserman and Carole-Ann. These characters along with several others provide a foil to Jury’s often self-reflective, sometimes morose bent.
The first of the Jury series Man With a Load of Mischief was published in 1981, and the latest book Vertigo 42 was published in 2014, for a total of twenty-three Jury novels. The interesting thing about her R. Jury books is that each is titled after a pub that is featured in the story. I read several of her books before I came to understand that she is an American, not British! I was astonished at this frankly. I could hardly believe that an American could write about the British way of life so authentically. I have friends who have lived in America for a number of years, but are Brits. I believe that they would agree that the stories and language and idioms are truly British. All but a couple of the R. Jury books are set in various areas in England. Two books, The Horse You Came in On and Rainbow’s End are set in America. Baltimore, MD and Santa Fe, NM, respectively.
Ms. Grimes also has written other mystery books. Young Emma Graham stars in a four book series as a twelve- year-old (American) girl whose natural curiosity and intelligence lead her to some interesting situations. I recommend them, but urge you to read them in order: Hotel Paradise, Cold Flat Junction, Belle Ruin, Fadeaway Girl. Ms. Grimes writes this character with sensitivity and grace. And certainly with a keen sense of what it was like to be twelve years old and on the edge of adulthood.
The book I’m currently reading, The Train Now Departing is not a mystery. Far from it. This is an exploration of an ordinary woman’s life. This particular woman is described in aching detail, how her life has narrowed and become isolated. And also the effect of the powerful man involved in her life. It is a nuanced work, somewhat sad, but not sappy nor sentimental. The second novella, entitled When the Mouse Trap Closes is (at least at the beginning) another examination of an older, single woman’s life and how it is impacted when she meets a younger man, very different from herself. I’m not yet finished with it, but it is quite fascinating so far.
I recommend Martha Grimes. If you haven’t read her books, grab one. In the case of the Richard Jury mysteries, I recommend reading them in order too. You can better see the character development over time and understand references that are occasionally made to previous story lines.