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Martha Grimes worked out a good marketing tool for her crime fiction; an American writer, she set her novels in England, featuring an English detective, Richard Jury, and his rather eccentric, upper class friends. I would have stayed well clear on the whole Im not a fan of American authors writing about England when they know very little about it (at least Im not aware that Martha Grimes has spent any substantial amount of time in England), but Elizabeth George did it so well that I thought some of her experience may have rubbed off on Martha Grimes. Unfortunately, Grimes characters are just that little bit too like parodies for comfort.
A small girl is found shot in the back in a London street. The police suspect that she has come from a house suspected of hording young girls for a paedophilia ring, but are unable to get a warrant to break in. The leader of the ring is thought to be Viktor Baumann. Strangely, he is linked to a murder in Cornwall in the grounds of a stately home owned by his daughter, Floras stepfather. This murder, in turn, is thought to be connected to the abduction of Flora a few years before.
Richard Jury, a Scotland Yard inspector, works on the case in conjunction with police officers from the Devon and Cornwall police. Jury also calls in one of his friends, Melrose Plant, to do some work at the stately home in the hope that he will be able to work out what is going on. All the signs point towards Baumann, but is he a double murderer and would he have kidnapped his own daughter? Jury is on the case and is determined to find out the truth.
Richard Jury is not a dislikeable character, but his actions are not very believable. Martha Grimes lack of knowledge about what a police officer can and cant do dont seem to be very clear and unfortunately, I think this makes him look a bit of a prat. Apart from that, he is just not a very original character. So many police officers tend to be miserable old sods who prefer to work alone and Richard Jury is no different. Boring!
Although Jury seems to be a fairly ordinary man, his friends are definitely upper class. Melrose Plant is the main character to feature in this book. He pretends to be an expert in a particular area of gardening that he knows nothing about and because of his inherent confidence, he apparently manages to get away with this. It is in this character that Martha Grimes really falls down. He just seems like a parody of a wealthy, titled Englishman that only exists in the minds of the non-English. It wasnt in any way insulting, it was just pointless and tedious. He had a series of friends and relatives that have brief episodes in the book; they are just as ridiculous as he.
The story wasnt a bad one. There is something about it that made me want to continue to the end and find out who the perpetrator of the crimes was. It did, however, get rather complicated at times, and I did lose the plot a bit in the last third of the book. Part of the premise of the story is that there are a couple of characters who are not who they claim to be; all very well, except that not even their nearest and dearest seems to have noticed their disguise. This is the most unrealistic part of the book and is the part that lets it down the most.
All the books in the series seem to be named after a pub that features in the story. This may well appeal to an American audience, but to me, just seemed ridiculous; the pub is mentioned about twice and that is all.
I dont think that the author had any intention of taking the mickey out of the English. I think she probably really believes that this is how the English live. I didnt find it offensive; I just found it rather laughable. I am all for authors writing outside of their own knowledge; there are very good books in which authors have done just that. Its just that this, coupled with the flaws in the plot and the fairly simplistic level of writing, made this a rather disappointing book. Not terrible, but disappointing nevertheless. Two stars perhaps borrow it from a library, but dont go to the trouble of buying.
If I havent put you off, the book is available from play.com for £4.30. Published by Signet Books, it has 366 pages. ISBN: 0451216962