Friday, November 7, 2014
FFB: I AM THE ONLY RUNNING FOOTMAN (1986) by Martha Grimes - A Richard Jury mystery.
Some of you may know that I am a big fan of Martha Grimes' Richard Jury books - in fact, I've read them all. But most of you know that I'm an old lady with miles of baggage on her chassis, the result being that many of these books have disappeared into the tomb of time that is my memory.
Ergo, I'm beginning again with Martha Grimes, rereading all the Jury books I have in the house while I wait for the new Bryant and May book by Christopher Fowler, due out next month. (I drop everything for Bryant and May).
I AM THE ONLY RUNNING FOOTMAN is the eighth Jury book, the title of which is based on an existing pub in Great Britain - all the Jury books are titled after pubs and lately, restaurants.
I've written about Grimes' unique style and quirks before, so today I'm quoting an example and hope it captures your imagination. See, here's the thing with Grimes - you have to use your imagination to 'get' what she's doing. If you don't, you won't. Simple as that.
There is a killer on the loose who has strangled a couple of young women - one in Devon and one closer to home in Mayfair. Jury is called in on the Mayfair murder and then must coordinate with Brian Macalvie of the Devon constabulary, a rather parochial but brilliant cop he met in a previous book. In the meantime, Melrose Plant, Jury's aristocratic friend must put on (no matter how unwillingly) his amateur detective guise and head out to Devon to help a nice young woman in trouble.
Martha Grimes is devilishly good at combing aspects of 'the cozy' with the more bizarre and violent nature of modern day crime. It's what throws some people off - but it's the part of her writing that I love most. No one else does it as successfully, though many have tried. Grimes is unique in her handling of the crime novel, she doesn't stint on the grisly activities of human beings and their beastly natures yet her books do contain cozy elements though they are definitely not cozies. It can strike some as odd, it never did me.
And now to the section that had me laughing last night, even though I knew we were on the hunt for a probable serial killer. The setting: Melrose Plant has arrived in Devon and is staying at a black and white Tudor timbered country inn called the Mortal Man. It is owned and operated by a family with the odd last name of Warboys (or maybe in England that's a common name), innkeepers who will test Plant's mettle to the fullest.
Breakfast was an occasion involving the usual hazards. He should have known that the juice would spill, the porridge tilt, and the mackerel slide and taken the precaution of wearing a bib.
As Melrose ate the mackerel he had rescued from his lap, he listened to the keening sound coming from the kitchen. It increased and diminished each time Sally Warboys slapped open the door to bring him another dish. It might have been the screech of a kettle forgotten on the hob or the youngest Warboys (there was a baby, too) with some intractable demand. There had already come from the kitchen the clatter of breaking crockery and the usual assortment of angry voices as the Warboyses took their battle stations.
Sally Warboys, in washboard gray, came out of the kitchen in her half-run, half-walk, to deposit Merlrose's pot of tea, which struck the table edge and sent hot water splashing down the cloth, just missing his hand by an inch. To call the Warboyses accident-prone would have been to do them an injustice, he thought; there was something here that smacked of deeply rooted tribal behavior.
As he blotted a bit of grease from his cuff, he noticed that the lad who done porter duty and dropped his bag had come into the dining room. This room was undergoing a Warboysian transformation, with Bobby [Warboys] up on his ladder swinging his hammer.
William sat at the table across the room. In another this might have been called a 'respectful distance,' but in a Warboys it looked like the first step in a campaign from which Melrose doubted he would emerge the victor. The boy sat stiff and staring, with a gaze so intent it pried Melrose's eyes up like a lever.
He was assisted in this scrutiny by Osmond, who lay on the floor with his head on his paws, eyes unflinching. Melrose assumed this was tactical necessity on the dog's part, like a falling back of troops readying for a surprise attack. He wondered if there had ever been guests at the Mortal Man before he happened along, for none there seemed to know what to make of one - whether to hold him hostage or kill him outright.
"Good morning," said Melrose cheerily. "It's William, isn't it?"
The boy responded swiftly and came over to the table. He sat down and placed a small notebook and pencil, or the stub of a pencil, beside the plate of buttered crumpet that Melrose had not ordered. When Melrose invited him to have one, he pulled the plate and marmalade pot over with an alacrity that would have made one think he'd been on prison rations up to now.
The Warboyses will be mentioned now and again in future Jury books. Martha Grimes has a habit of investing even minor side characters (and their pets, usually dogs, though occasionally cats) with memorable quirks too colorful to be completely forgotten, even by me.
Simply put: I love the Richard Jury series and if a couple of the later ones are not Grimes' best work, the remainder are definitely worth looking for. Martha Grimes' Fantastic Fiction page has a handy list of all her books.
NOTE: Since it's Friday, don't forget to check in at Patti Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other Forgotten (or Overlooked) Books other bloggers are talking about today.
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I've had a copy of this one kicking around (mostly in storage) for years...but haven't read it yet, despite that catchpenny title...ReplyDelete
Well, go look for it, Todd. Now's a good a time as any. :)Delete
Yes, they are great, or most of them. I bought each in hardcover as they came out in the U.S., and they were a fine set - this was about the time the 9th or 10th came out - until there was a Visiting Puppy Problem. Yes, the puppy was left in the house while owner and I went out to long lunch. Upon return, the throw pillows were shredded, the lamps fallen, and the books on the bottom of several columns of shelves quite chewed, including the nice spines and covers of all those Grimes books. I never replaced them, and only read a few more (library) before deciding they were becoming tired and formulaic. Re-reading the early ones would be a treat though.ReplyDelete
I've read them all, will continue to read them if she continues to write them. I have a crush on Richard Jury. I also love her animal characters so it's kind of neat that a dog put paid to your collection of Grimes books. I have a slew of them in hardcover too. Though not the very very early ones. Remember the ending when Grimes left Jury shot and bleeding in the park near a fountain? I was in torment.The hardest year ever waiting for the sequel.Delete
I think she's slowly come back to normal recently. I read her latest and it was quite good. She did go overboard, or so I thought, with the telepathic cat and dog and the furniture-breaking sex play though.
Fred I believe she had some personal problems going on in her life and that may have influenced her writing in a negative way. But in truth I didn't mind the mental telepathy stuff as much as I minded Jury hot and heavy with that awful woman. Ugh. But fortunately, in the latest book, she has disappeared. That usually happens to Jury women. Ha.Delete
Yvette, Martha Grimes is one of two contemporary and not-so-dissimilar women authors I haven't read; the other is Mary Higgins Clark. They are already on my ever growing list of authors to read.ReplyDelete
But I think they are very dissimilar, Prashant. I've never read any Mary Higgins Clark - her books just didn't interest me much. But Grimes is, to my mind, brilliant and quite in a different class. But again, I say: this is my own personal opinion. You know how that goes, my friend. :)Delete
I think I have reread most of them...now I have to seek out the latter ones again....ReplyDelete
This is my first re-read go around with Grimes, Gram. I'm now into HELP THE POOR STRUGGLER. Needless to say, I'm not reading them in order. I don't believe you really have to. But that's my own personal take. Most of these books do stand on their own even if reference is made to past characters.Delete
Yvette, I've been collecting these books for a couple years now and have quite a few on my shelf. I have yet to read one of them though! I am a book drunkard after all and procure way more than I can ever possibly read but I am going to start these in 2015! I don't have the first one yet so I will get it at the library. Quirky is the word that interested me!ReplyDelete
I made a huge mistake, Peggy Ann, this is not the second book but the eighth. It was listed incorrectly somewhere and I didn't catch it. At any rate, if you link over to Fantastic Fiction (link in post) you'll get the correct listing. I should have done that to begin with. GAK!Delete
Anyway, I'm glad you're willing to give Grimes a try. I hope you'll read and write about her work in the coming year.
Thanks for that excerpt Yvette. Quite funny. I plan to read the first Richard Jury book next year and then progress to the other titles.ReplyDelete
A very good idea, Neeru. Hope you will enjoy your sojourn with Richard Jury. I have SUCH a crush on him. :)Delete
I have not read all of the series, but I have almost all of them. I have read the first 13, and THE CASE HAS ALTERED is the next on my list. It has been quite a while, I need to get back to the series.ReplyDelete
Yes you do, Tracy. :) I'm having so much fun rereading them. I'm now in the middle of THE DIRTY DUCK.ReplyDelete
I buy a Mary Higgins Clark Book for my girlfriend, she has read almost all of them.ReplyDelete
I've never read her books, Yvonne. But she has a lot of fans.Delete