The Jury Is Out! Some of my favorite writers created make-believe worlds: Edgar Rice Burroughs, P. G. Wodehouse, Arthur Conan Doyle.
Of all the contemporary mystery writers, only one has gone to the lengths of the masters I just mentioned. Martha Grimes has created an England very much her own. If it doesn't always square with reality, so be it. That, indeed, is its charm, because Grimes imbues most of her work with jolly good will and fireside tales well told.
The Lamorna Wink, her latest, is no exception. While Richard Jury is, as usual, the star, much of the stage time is given to the art collector and part-time sleuth Melrose Plant, one of Jury's oddest and best friends. Plant is so vivid as a character that in a couple places I had the impression he was narrating the book in first person. In some respects, he's more memorable than Jury himself.
Grimes gives us a setting worthy of Agatha Christie Bletchley House, the sort of old British place that BBC producers love to shoot exteriors of. The place is filled with older people, some of them ill and waiting for death, living on the largesse of a benefactor who may not be what he seems. No trouble there, except that a few of the guests have disappeared from time to time in the past.
Grimes loves convoluted plots, which is why I won't even try to uncomplicate this particular one for you. As much fun as the plots are, it's the mood she sets that really matters the world she has created out ofwholecloth for the amusement of her readers and, presumably, herself.
Grimes has the rare ability to tell most of a novel in a sardonic, even surreal style and then shift, in the final pages, to genuine melancholy and sorrow. Nothing here is as it seems this may be Grimes's sleekest plot twist to date until Richard Jury comes back onstage and sorts things out.
I haven't read all of Grimes, so I can't say that this is absolutely her best book. But I'll tell you one thing it is, by turns, charming, mysterious, funny, and in the end somber. Grimes may have created her own world and populated it with grand oddballs, but she never forgets the verities of the human condition. This is an excellent novel.
Ed Gorman's latest novels include Daughter of Darkness, Harlot's Moon, and Black River Falls, the latter of which "proves Gorman's mastery of the pure suspense novel," says Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. ABC-TV has optioned the novel as a movie. Gorman is also the editor of Mystery Scene magazine, which Stephen King calls "indispensable" for mystery readers.