on 19 November 2006
I really like this book. It has the perfect cosy feeling and is set in a small town in Great Britain. Jury is a really enjoyable character to read about, he's not some bitter old man, but rather intelligent and pleasant. It's a classic "whodunit" type of case, and has a quite slow pace, which I actually enjoy. If you like Agatha Christie you'll probably like this one too. The only complaint I've got is that it would have been better if you'd get to know "the suspects" a bit more.
This is the first of the Inspector Jury mysteries. My own debut with the series was one of the most recent books, Winds of Change. I enjoyed that greatly, but I found the large cast of characters a bit of a strain on the memory, so I next chose the first of all, expecting to be introduced to the main characters in a systematic way. To some extent I have been, but Ms Grimes doesn't really do systematic introductions. Jury, Melrose Plant and the others ease their way on to the scene rather than make any highlighted entrance. However with another volume in the series behind me I was better attuned to what to expect, and I coped better with the extensive character-list this time.
One thing that helped was that so many people in this story are murdered that there are fewer to keep tabs on as the book progresses. Indeed unless I'm mistaken the author herself loses count of exactly how many. Another intriguing feature is that the story has actually two heroes, Jury himself and the elegant aristocratic dilettante Melrose Plant, formerly Viscount this and Baron that before he resigned his titles out of boredom. Otherwise the style is a rather brilliant pastiche of the traditional English whodunit, as practised most famously by Agatha Christie. American spelling is used (vise, gray, fiber, checkbook) but otherwise it would be hard to tell that the author was not another English Rose herself, except for an oddly nonchalant attitude to geography that I had also noticed in Winds of Change - she appears to think that Northamptonshire, which is in the south Midlands, is somewhere in northern England. Like Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle she has a penchant for bachelors as making the best detectives, although there is one solitary reference, never elaborated, to some one called Maggie who haunts Jury's memory, and I have to hope that this was someone who had formed part of his personal life and not the prime minister at the time of the book's creation.
The book is light reading, but there are one or two good phrases and more than one or two striking perceptions that suggest to me that Grimes has depths to her that may be more apparent in her other kinds of fiction. The story-line is a genuine page-turner, I found, and the final denouement is an excellent specimen of the over-the-top genre, more familiar these days from detective series on television than from Christie and her generation. The atmosphere evokes the picture-postcard kind of English village, still without ethnic minorities or cut-price housing developments, that Christie's Miss Marple would have recognised, and the place-names are at least a brave attempt at English nomenclature. As far as the dialogue goes, Grimes seems to me to have a very good ear indeed, to the extent that even Plant's American whodunit-writing aunt talks in the general English manner, despite her difficulties with some people's names.
This is a more straightforward detective story than the much more recent Winds of Change. The narrative is all focused on the plot-line without diverging into the deeper recesses of Jury's or anyone else's personality and deeper thoughts, although there are a few displays of erudition just to give a distinctive feel to it all. I'd say that a genuine distinctiveness is what I like best about Martha Grimes, so far as I have got to know her by this stage, and it appears likely that she values this quality herself, to judge from the scorn heaped on the derivative efforts of one author in the course of the story. Her large following do not need me to tell them what to look for or what to admire, but for newcomers like myself I would say start at the beginning - with this book. Apart from anything else, I found myself admiring the adeptness with which this American writer has captured a particularly English type of style without affectation or artificiality. If you like this sort of thing, you should find this a fine example of the sort of thing you like.
on 6 November 2014
I heard of this author via an elderly, elegant American lady that I met briefly on a river cruise. She had read all her books and loved them as she said they captured the flavour of English life. Knowing the author was not British stayed in my mind the entire time I read it. I would say maybe she tries too hard, and it seems rather false. I wasn't convinced. The story was fair, but it seemed incongruous that although written to be quintessentially English, the spelling was American (and 'Hatsfield House'? Ouch). I don't think I will be reading any more.
on 5 October 2013
Having read most of the Richard Jury series, except for the first, I decided to go backwards in time and read The Man with a Load of Mischief. The introduction to the characters I already knew and loved was wonderful. The humour and humanity of Richard and Melrose, Aunt Agatha and the rest makes this book, like the subsequent ones, absolute lovely reading. Now, having read the first, it is time to reread all the rest and wait eagerly for more in this delightful series.
on 5 January 1999
Having never before read one of Martha Grimes' books, I wanted to start with the first one of the "Richard Jury-mysteries". "The Man With A Load Of Mischief" is superbly written and has some of the most memorable characters I've ever encountered in any book. They are well desribed, yet there is enough space for your own imagination. The book is very funny and has some of most hilarious dialogues being ever written. In my opinion one won't be able to stop reading. Whether it is for the mystery or the characters, this decision is not to be made by me. Final words: If you like good crime/mysteries, well written dialogue and an unbelievable ensamble of characters - then buy this book and all of the others. You certainly won't regret it!