Top critical review
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a decent read
on 10 March 2007
I had decided against reading this latest Richard Jury installment. While many of her later Richard Jury novels (and we won't include "The Old Wine Shades" here) have been largely decent reads in spite of certain factors (characters and subplots that hijack the novel even though they have precious little to do with the main plot), these later installments really pale in comparison to her earlier stellar work. And so I had decided not to bother about reading "Dust" especially when I had heard that Jury's main preoccupation here was about bedding the detective in charge of the case he's horned in on, Detective Inspector Lu Aguilar. But a weekend looming with nothing to read, made me breakdown and borrow the book. And in the end I'm glad that I did. True, there was the unfortunate Jury-Aguilar diversion, but for the most part, in spite of the slowish start, "Dust" turned out to be a decent read.
When young Benny Keegan discovers the dead body of a guest in the patio of one of the room's at Zetter's (a rather posh London hotel), his first thought, after ascertaining that the man is actually dead, is to call up his friend Richard Jury of New Scotland Yard. After all, as an underaged child working illegally at the hotel, Benny cannot afford to be caught in the middle of a murder investigation, and that's where Jury comes in -- to stand between the wheels of an official investigation and Benny. For Jury however, this investigation poses a whole set of different problems. To begin with there is the murder victim, Billy Maples, a rich young man, given to lavish spending, mood swings, and who was such an aficionado of Henry James' that he rented James' cottage in Rye from the National Trust. Why was Maples murdered? For gain, or for revenge? Satisfied with none of the many hypothesis floating around, Jury sends Melrose Plant (once again) under cover, to see if Melrose can uncover some dirt that would shed light on Billy's murder. More disturbingly, though, is Jury's attraction to Detective Lu Aguilar, especially since it is an attraction that seems to be getting in the way of the investigation...
There are several things to appreciate about "Dust" -- the lyrically beautiful descriptions of scenes for example, and the manner in which Martha Grimes has incorporated Henry James into the plot. Another thing I truly appreciated is that the side show characters (Agatha, Vivian, Trueblood and Carole-anne) were confined to a few paragraphs here and there. So no chance for them to steal the book. Though, I was dismayed that Harry Johnson turned up in "Dust." (I suppose it was futile of me to wish that this character would either fade into the woodwork or else just be killed off ?) The storyline was a rather good and intriguing one too, even though it did get off to a slowish start and really didn't pick up until Melrose Plant makes an appearance. Who would've thought that the day would come when Melrose Plant would liven things up?
However, there were things that were unsatisfying too. The poor editing for example; and the fact that the mystery subplot was never really properly developed to my satisfaction. Could this have been the reason why it lacked complexity and subtlety? On another note, I'm embarrassed to admit that the whole kindertransport bit confused me a little. How could Roderick have been part of this, given that he wasn't a Jewish child or from one of the occupied countries? And since the last trip was in 1940, before things began to look bad for the Germans, his father would have had little incentive to smuggle him out of Germany? Which leads me to my last gripe: the ending was really not very satisfying at all. Who pushed those girls of the raft/boat?
All in all, it wasn't as bad as I feared it might be, and in many ways I rather enjoyed "Dust." I'd rate "Dust" as a 3 1/2 star read -- more good bits than bad, and end with the fervent hope that the next Jury novel will be the one that will wholeheartedly satisfy.