Martha Grimes writes a darned good mystery, but then again, so do a lot of other folks. So why do I keep coming back to her books when there are so many other good mysteries out there begging to be read? Well, let me try to figure it out. There's Richard Jury of New Scotland Yard and his friend, and unofficial fellow mystery solver, Melrose Plant, the former Earl of Caverness (former because he has renounced the title just because he doesn't want it). Together, they make a pretty good crime solving duo. But then again, so do Holmes and Watson, or Batman and Robin, or even Nick andf Nora of "Thin Man" fame, but it's to Jury and Plant that I keep returning. Why? The truth is that Ms. Grimes has surrounded them with some of the most colorful characters in modern mystery fiction.
Before I discuss a few of my favorites, I'd better reveal a bit of the plot of THE FIVE BELLS AND BLADEBONE. To start with, a piece of antique furniture in the town of Long Piddleton, home to Melrose Plant and many of the other "regulars," is found to contain a dismembered body. Elsewhere, the body of a murdered London woman is discovered. Although it is not evident, Richard Jury believes that there is some sort of connection between these seemingly unrelated murders. He takes it upon himself to determine whether or not these murders are related to one another, and to find out who committed the murders. Obviously, this is a simplified description of the plot.
Before going on to my real reasons for loving Martha Grimes' novels, I do have to tell you that Richard Jury and Melrose Plant are real, lively, and interesting characters who are worth reading about on their own. They have distinct personalities, problems, etc., and it is rewarding to get to know them.
For starters, there's Jury's official aide, Detective Sergeant Wiggins. Wiggins is a walking pharmacy. He knows, as surely as he knows that sea air is poisonous, that he is going to fall seriously ill in the next minute. Any air he breathes is fraught with murderous bacteria and virus. He breaks out if it's dry and wheezes if it's damp. He sneezes if it's spring and coughs if it's fall, but never fear, he has pills and potions, nostrums and salves, inhalants and something called "fishermen's friends" in one pocket or another. He takes them all, too. In spite of his hypochondria, he is an outstanding policeman with an analytic mind and an ability to take unimpeachable notes.
Then, in Long Piddleton, there's Melrose's friend, Marshall Trueblood, antique dealer and a frequent partner in Melrose's pranks. Marshall dresses with a flair, in pinks and purples and mauves, in the finest silks and satins, and is rarely without a colorful scarf to set off his sartorial elegance. These clothes are the products of the finest (read expensive) tailors and designers that London has to offer. In this book, when an antique secretaire a abbant (desk to us commoners) he has purchased turns out to contain a dismembered body in it, his reaction is, "I bought the desk, not the body, send it back."
It's difficult to describe Jury's Scotland Yard supervisor, Chief Superintendent Racer, without resorting to a description that combines the word pompous with a word that describes the south end of a mule who is facing north. For reasons unknown, he has always had it in for Jury, but, in his heart of hearts, he knows that it is only Jury's amazing successes in solving difficult crimes that he, Racer, who is a total incompetent, has managed to keep his prestigious position. There is also, Cyris the cat, the bane of Racer's existence. Cyris is Racer's intellectual superior and lives only for the opportunity to torment and outwit Racer. That Cyril survives whatever trap Racer sets for him is testament to their relative intellects.
As is always the case in Martha Grimes' mysteries, there are too many more wonderful characters to begin to even list them all in a review of this length, much less to really do them justice, but I would be remiss if I didn't discuss Melrose's Aunt Agatha. She is everyone's nightmare in-law. She is utterly without redeeming qualities.
And what sort of mischief is Aunt Agatha up to in this book? Ah, she's at her best. She is suing Jurvis the butcher for "serious injuries" to her leg, ankle, or foot (she occasionally forgets which) resulting from an accident caused by a plaster pig that has stood in front of Jurvis' butcher shop for many years. The pig, she claims, somehow caused her to lose control of her car, an old junkheap, and to run up on the sidewalk, hitting both the pig and a parked bicycle. This pig caused accident resulted in serious pain and suffering. She can't exactly explain how the pig caused the accident, but there's no doubt that it was the pig's fault, just ask her, and Aunt Agatha is just the person to see to it that justice is served and that she will be adequately compensated for her injuries by way of a lawsuit. Wonder how this case comes out when tried by a dozing local magistrate? Well, I'm not going to spoil your fun by providing you with this information. You'll just have to find out for yourself.
And, oh yeah, there's a murder to be solved too. After all, this is a mystery novel. You're just going to have to do some reading on your own to find out who dunnit.