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Monday, May 21, 2007

Great WhoDunIt!! The Old Wine Shades

I picked up Martha Grimes’ The Old Wine Shades in the Amtrak station in FL having inadvertently packed Blue Shoes and Happiness in the car before boarding the autotrain. This 391 page mystery, a Richard Jury (Grimes’ detective and her 20th novel about him) had a lot to prove to me. It did.

What a strange book! Stories within stories. Peculiar characters. Hints of supernatural forces. Mental illness. England. Italy. Antiques and art. History. Old age. Youth. Quantum physics. A dog mysteriously disappearing and then reappearing a year later. A dog that adds to the narration. Whodunit? Grimes dunit! Sometimes with a bit of a stretch but always in good spirit.

Martha Grimes skillfully pushes the envelope in mystery writing to a point where I was as lost as the detective and his strange crony helpers. There were times I wanted to join them in a glass of fine wine—or spirits. I spent the 391 pages guessing and being jolted from idea to idea. And when I reached the end….

This is a well-written book, full of wit and humor as well as mind-dangling suspense, hitting Scotland Yard, the old English Clubs (the Boring men’s club where they’re served by Young Higgins who is older than dirt) with their ceremony and tradition and full of eccentric aristocracy with enough time on their hands—when they’re not drinking—to get involved in a good mystery, and every other aspect of a good British whodunit. Grimes draws vivid pictures of the settings and creates alluring atmosphere wherever she leads her characters. It’s impossible not to become involved. She’s American, but this is not a blood and guts tale; it’s a clever mind twister!

Of course I won’t tell you who the villain is, but he is smart! Richard Jury has his hands full trying to find the body in this one! And I bet you won’t figure it out. I was up most of the night reading, and I had to finish the book quickly once we got home. I had to know….

By the way, The Old Wine Shades is a one of the oldest wine bars in London.

I wouldn’t be surprised if I return to read another Richard Jury novel. Scotland Yard’s Detective Superintendent Jury is an interesting character, and I’ve a hunch that he will be as “real” as Hercule Poirot, Adam Dalgliese, or Joe Leaphorn. That makes for a good read.

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