Top positive review
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Grimes is truer than ever to form!
on 27 February 2006
In “The Old Wine Shades,” Martha Grimes’ latest--and 21st Richard Jury mystery--is an attention-grabber from the first sentence. Grimes, after seemingly going through a rough patch in the last number or so of Jury stories, is back on track with another fast-paced, mesmerizing story, a labyrinthine reading adventure that’s well worth the read.
“A man walked into a pub,” or so the joke goes. And Grimes grabs this narrative hook and off to the races she goes. Jury, on a semi-suspension pending the outcome of an inquiry over the illegal search of a crime scene in the previous book (“The Winds of Change”), seems to have time on his hands. Sitting in a favorite local pub (Grimes’ Jury books are all names of actual pubs) called The Old Wine Shades, Jury is approached by a well-dressed, highly intelligent, and most personable gentleman, a physicist who’s into more physics than the average reader is likely to know, who begins telling Jury the story of the disappearance of the wife of a fellow physicist, her autistic son, and their dog Mungo. Over three evenings (and lots of vintage wine), Harry Johnson tells this compelling--and mystifying tale. It’s been nice months since the disappearance: no ransom demand, no post cards, no body. (No body? Asks Carole-anne, Jury’s neighbor friend form previous Grimes stories. “A body will turn up. A body always does,” she says.) The story is so compelling that Jury can’t keep it out of his mind.
The story, as Jury says, is actually a frame story, or a story within a story within a story….Weaving the murder mystery intricately with lessons in quantum physics (the superstring theory, Schrodinger’s cat, Einstein, Niels Bohr), Grimes doesn’t get lost in pedantry, however. (Actually, she’s quite clever as she deftly makes one quantum leap to another with this thread!)
A key element, however, is the dog Mungo. “And the dog came back,” we’re told. After nine months, Johnson says that Mungo just appeared at his door. Mungo is more than just an incidental element in the story as Grimes particulates her characters at the speed of light, treading lightly on such theories of relativity--all to justify the ends in this riveting story. “The Old Wine Shades” is vintage Martha Grimes, as she continuously comes back to her literary lifelines: her established charcters from Long Pid (Melrose Plant, Aunt Agatha, and the gang at the Jack and Hammer), Jury’s office mates, his neighbors and colleagues. A Jury story wouldn’t be the same without them, of course. And Grimes’ penchant for the literary has always been one of her strong points, with an allusion here and an allusion there, pleasantly interspersed which only adds to the interest. Her love for London (especially Foyles book store and Fortnam and Mason’s department store) makes the reader feel her stories are somehow, well, “local color.” Her eloquent narrative descriptions combined with subtle--and often dry--humor and fast-paced dialogue has made the latest in her series certainly one of the favorites. Grimes, however, is not an author easily picked up in the middle. Readers, it seems, are expected to know the background of too many references to previous books and this is could be a frustration for first timers. Still, that said, I’ve never found a Richard Jury story that wasn’t worth the read. This one’s a winner.