Friday's Forgotten Books is a weekly meme hosted by Patti Abbott at her blog, PATTINASE. Drop in later and check the links for today's books. It's bound to be varied and intriguing.
My entry today, THE WINDS OF CHANGE is a slightly edited version of a review I did a few years ago for the now defunct website, MYSTERYINK.
Martha Grimes is an American who thinks and writes like a Brit. She's created her own version of England and peopled it with an imaginatively inventive set of characters. This nineteenth installment in the long-running series featuring her elegiac Scotland Yard Superintendent Richard Jury, The Winds of Change -- the books are all titled after British pubs -- begins with the worst of crimes: the murder of a child on a London city street.
The sad death of this abused and unidentified, little girl is seemingly unrelated to the previous disappearance, several years before, of four year old Flora Scott, who was snatched from a public garden in Cornwall, right under the nose of her frantic mother, Mary. The loss of his step-daughter (a crime never solved) followed by the death from illness of his beloved wife, has left wealthy Declan Scott a recluse, a man consumed by grief.
Flora's biological father, London businessman, coin collector and suspected pedophile Viktor Baumann (whom the vice unit has been keeping an eye on) is linked to a notorious house in North London which happens to sit just a couple of blocks from the street where the current victim has been found.
Since there are few coincidences in crime, this is more than enough to raise an eyebrow as far as the local police are concerned.
When Richard Jury is alerted by Brian Macalvie, his old friend and divisional commander with the Devon and Cornwall police, that an unknown woman has been found murdered on the very estate where Flora Scott lived -- coincidentally shot with the same caliber gun as the little girl in London - Jury's investigation necessarily deepens. Soon he and the germ fighting, herb-tea-swilling, hypochondriac associate, Sergeant Wiggins are on their way to the southern coast of England.
For Jury this is also a personally trying time, he's just had news that his cousin Sarah, a difficult woman he was never especially fond of, has died. Since she was the only one left who shared Jury's hazy recollections of his youth, guilt forces him to reconsider their relationship and his memories as he takes time out to attend her funeral in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. We know little, even after eighteen books, about Jury's life before he became a policeman, so it's interesting to see him interact with his few remaining relatives. Grimes is not often willing to share much about Jury's past. In some strange way, it's almost as if she guards him from our prying eyes.
Martha Grimes' books generally swoon with layer upon layer of melancholy. Her style is unique and no other thriller writer working today has her eloquent technique or her gift for staging. Dark forebodings plague her characters and often play part in establishing links between catastrophic events. The moors, the windswept coasts of the new angst-ridden England, even the London side streets reek of gloom and perished dreams. Even her animals share the human's penchant for melancholy, a unique "Grime-ism" which only she seems able to get away with. Grimes never just concocts a simple tale of murder, her stories always include that "something else," something indefinable; a sinister presence, unnamed, unexplained, unseen but always felt. Hers is a darkly gothic England which hasn't quite shaken loose its mythical demons and where secrets always rise up out of the past to snarl and bite.
But the unseen creature stirring in the woodshed in a Grimes tale is more ambiguous than a mere monster of fantasy. The monsters Grimes invents are human ones, well hidden beneath the deceptive guise of normalcy. No one is spared in a Grimes tale, not even children. Especially children. Grimes can be ruthless when it comes to the more innocent among us. She has a way of writing children, recognizably different from others in the genre. The Grimes child is always enigmatic, uniquely precocious, capricious and very much given to other-worldliness. The author obviously enjoys creating them and it shows.
And when one of them comes to harm, it seems a doubly hurtful occurrence.
The most melancholy of all characters in this series, is of course, her enigmatic creation Richard Jury. A Scotland Yard detective superintendent; Jury is a sensitive, introspective man given to reading poetry and ruminating about the exquisite darkness of life, and with just cause. He believes (like many things in a Grimes book, we're not entirely sure where the actual truth lies) he saw his mother die in a London wartime bombing which destroyed their home when he was about 4 or so. Lately though, he's begun to doubt this.
The reader gets the sense that Jury has spent his entire life in a fruitless search for the unnamed thing that his mother's death robbed him of -- but maybe not. One thing for sure, he can't seem to find and keep the right woman. A kind-hearted, attractive and intriguing man, he seems complacent in his aloneness. And can sometimes appear obstinate and obtuse. One wonders, for instance, if he will ever notice the suitability of Carole-Ann, an equally enigmatic young woman living and preening her bright plumage in London, right under Jury's nose. It's enough to make this reader occasionally shake her head in exasperation.
If Grimes' books were exclusively about Jury, the time might come when enough would be enough. As a character, he is, after all, overburdened with a gift for rumination bordering on the excessive. Upon occasion I have been heard to mutter "ENOUGH!" quite loudly in the recesses of my room. Jury can, occasionally, get on a reader's nerves.
But Grimes is astute enough to include a revolving cast of characters which serve to poke and prod the Detective Superintendent out of his self imposed inclinations and into the cold, cruel world to do battle with evil; a job at which he is superbly talented.
Grimes has a relish for quirky character names, ergo, the cast: Trevor Sly, Ada Crisp, Marshall Trueblood, Polly Praed, Vivian Rivington, Diane Demorney and the odious Theo Wrenn Browne, bookstore proprietor. We also get an assorted variety of oddly named cats and dogs (a feline named Desperado, for one) all denizens of the village of Long Piddleton - they seem to have wandered in from a P.G. Wodehouse novel. Yet somehow this disconcerting mixture works.
The Winds of Change is a darkly moody tale of murder, mixed identities and sleight of hand deception, and Richard Jury is once again on call to solve a case where the past casts a long shadow over the present.
Jury's good friend, the oh-so-upper-class Melrose Plant -- an Earl who has abandoned the title for reasons which remain unclear although in The Lamorna Wink, the sixteenth book in the series, hints are given -- arrives at Declan Scott's estate in Cornwall - incognito - masquerading as a gardener with an arcane specialty: the laying on and re-establishment of turf. Though given to cynicism, Melrose is almost impossible to dislike.
"The following day dawned clear and cold. Not that Melrose was up in it. He wondered sometimes what an up-at-dawn experience would be like, but he never wondered enough to try it."Exceedingly rich, naturally charming (though seemingly unaware of it) and a lifelong bachelor, he is usually ensconced at his estate Ardry End, with his butler Ruthven, a fussy retainer of the old school. Both men are constantly on guard against visits from Plant's truly awful Aunt Agatha who delights in tormenting Melrose with the social niceties, and making trouble for the hapless citizens of their little village, Long Piddleton. But since Melrose is friends with Jury, he does routinely get involved in cases when Jury feels like including him.
Also on hand in this book, is the perpetually brooding police inspector Brian Macalvie. Burdened with his own private demons and dark nature, he and Jury make for an interesting, if somewhat somber, crime fighting duo. And as usual, Chief Superintendent Racer and his nemesis, the office cat Cyril, are on hand to make malicious mischief down at New Scotland Yard.
Martha Grimes works her compelling magic on the various skeins of this thorny, ultimately heartbreaking problem she's set before Jury and though all, of course, is never completely right in the end -- how could it be? -- most of the answers are revealed and life continues for the melancholy Superintendent Jury of Scotland Yard.