by Martha Grimes
This month our book club decided to read works by Martha Grimes. She was born in Pittsburgh on May 2, 1931. Her father was the city solicitor and her mother owned the Mountain Lake Hotel in western Maryland. Grimes and her brother spent summers in the country at their mother’s hotel (it was torn down in 1967). Grimes received her bachelors and masters degrees from the University of Maryland and taught in a number of places, including Frostburg State University. Most of Grimes’ novels fall in the subdivision of mysteries sometimes called “cozies.” Her most famous character is Richard Jury, a detective from Scotland Yard. Each of the 22 Jury mysteries are named after a pub, usually found in England. The Dirty Duck is the 4th in the Jury series.
Superintendent Richard Jury must find a serial killer who is targeting Americans from a group touring England. The murderer leaves behind lines of poetry after slashing his victims. Jury must also deal with another possible crime. One of the tourists is James Farraday, a millionaire widower from Maryland, who’s 9 year old boy, Jimmy, has disappeared. Farraday demands that Scotland Yard take over this case from the local police, too. Jury is helped by his friend, Melrose Plant, a rich aristocrat. Children often play an important role in the Jury stories, as in this one with the possible kidnapping of Jimmy. The discussion with Jimmy’s teenage sister, Penny, shows that Superintendent Jury has a good rapport with children.
It is recommended that you read the Jury series in order, with the earlier mysteries first. The characters change and develop. Events often build on things that happened in previous books. It is easier to follow and less confusing if you get to know the characters along the way. Grimes is a fabulous writer who uses the English language very effectively. Her stories are often complex, containing a large number of colorful characters, which makes it harder to casually follow events. Martha Grimes is a thinking person’s author. The Dirty Duck is an outstanding example of one of her early books. I would strongly recommend her to anyone who enjoys a good mystery.
Other books by Martha Grimes read by the book club:
Richard Jury books: Dust (#21), Lamorna Wink (#15), The Old Wine Shades (#20), The Horse You Came In On (#11) and The Old Silent (#10)
Other books: Foul Matter, The Way of the Fishes, Dakota and Hotel Paradise
Book club members who read Martha Grimes:
Pat Kuna, Donna Norseen, Sharon Shaffer, Bill Simmons, Deb Stewart, Barbara Swanson, Linda Troll, and Rae Ann Weaver
By Kate Morton
Published by Washington Square Press
Copyright © 2010
“The Distant Hours” is not only a great title for this book, but for all of Morton’s work. She excels at haunting her pages with imagined lives and visions from England’s Victorian and post-Victorian past. In reading this story you’ll find out what the distant hours are, and you’ll begin to see how relevant it is Morton’s writing.
Edie Burchill has always felt a bit disconnected from her parents and from her extended family. Her parents seem the practical sort and her mom’s family is the brash and crude sort with a chip on their shoulder for any who they perceive to look down their noses at them. Edie; however, is bookish and a bit of a dreamer. She longs to be closer to her family, especially her mother, but their differences make it hard to cross the chasm.
When Edie’s mother receives a letter that had been lost in the post for decades, and she sees her mother’s dramatic reaction to its contents, she must know more. And even though her mother stonewalls her at every turn, Edie slowly uncovers her mother’s past which includes her rocky relationship with her family and her days as a child evacuee from London during World War II when she spent a glorious year in the English countryside at Middlehurst Castle with the Blythe family. So in addition to uncovering her mother’s history she also unravels the secrets that waft in the air and seep from the stones of Middlehurst Castle. Edie learns of the personal heartaches of the twins, Percy and Saffy, and of their little sister Juniper Blythe. She is eventually entrusted with two horrible secrets that have their roots deeply entrenched in Edie’s favorite book “The True History of the Mud Man,” which just so happened to be written by the Blythe sisters’ father, Raymond.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous review, I absolutely love Kate Morton’s writing! The way she descriptively creates a setting and a mood is just phenomenal. And her acumen with character development keeps the story riveting. Her characters motivations and secrets are never presented entirely upfront; she slowly feeds you what you need to know about a character until you have a much more complex person that what you started with. In this story Percy and Saffy Blythe, the twins, are perfect examples of this. They are each initially described as the opposite side of the same coin; one the picture of strength and purpose and the other weak and motherly; however, by the end of the story these notions are nearly turned on their side.
Having read “The Forgotten Garden” and now “The Distant Hours,” I’ve really begun to hone in on Mortons’ forte as a mystery writer. She excels at writing the decades and even centuries old imagined cold-case. She knows how to dig from the present to the past, how to make family research look exciting. While she is not the first to write these types of stories it works now more than ever as people are becoming more and more interested in the uncovering of family history. The interest is not just in one’s own family history, but the histories of famous people and of complete strangers.
If I had any criticism at all, it might be that on rare occasions what is presented in a flashback chapter might be just as interesting if discovered in the present. This of course may take a little from the character development that I gushed about earlier. To be completely honest though, “The Distant Hours” was just so thoroughly engrossing that few negative thoughts popped into my head. If you have yet to read a Kate Morton book then “The Distant Hours” is a great place to start.
Filed under Adult Fiction, Drama, Europe, Family, Historical, Murder, Mystery, Psychological, Romance, War, Writers
By Kaitlyn Dunnett
Published by Kensington Publishing
Copyright © 2011
Liss MacCrimmon and the Moosetookalook crew are back in another deadly tale. Moosetookalook is hosting the first annual Maine-ly Cozey Con, a mystery writer’s conference, and murder is the Maine event.
The Maine-ly Cozy Con was lured to Moosetookalook by Liss’ aunt Margaret who knows the producer of the event. This mystery conference is the brainchild of a former town resident, Nola Ventress. Nola has a disreputable past in town, but she agreed to bring the event to The Spruces Hotel as a favor to Margaret and because The Spruces has the unusual distinction of being the site of a real life murder. Nola makes one big mistake though, in an effort to get some publicity she sends program information to a well known mystery book blogger. While the idea is well intentioned, she didn’t stop to realize that this blogger was mostly well known for her scathing book reviews; she rarely had anything good too say.
When this blogger shows up in person and begins to snoop around and hassle various writers and residents of Moosetookalook, it isn’t long until Nola realizes her mistake and Liss has more murders to investigate. This time however, Liss goes barking up the wrong tree when she is looking for a suspect. This mistake might just save her life in the end though.
While it is slightly far-fetched for such a small town to have so many murders, the reader must let themselves be taken by the fantasy to enjoy the Dunnett’s stories. Dunnett of course alludes to this in “Scotched” when she draws a parallel between Moosetookalook, Maine and Cabot Cove, Maine of “Murder She Wrote” fame. If one can allow this to pass they are in for an enjoyable murder mystery. While one would never mistake the Liss MacCrimmon series as being hard core, suspenseful murder mysteries, it can be said that she writes a solid story that has you guessing till the very end.
I have to say, I don’t know how many more murder mysteries you can squeeze a 27 year old former Scottish dancer, current Scottish Emporium owner, bride to be, and resident of small town Moosetookalook into. If I could, I would recommend a Scottish Wedding Murder for Liss and Dan. If Dunnett wishes to continue writing about Liss’ meddling, Liss is going to have to travel much more. Portland would be nice. How about Aroostook County?! I hear they grow great potatoes up there, and who knows maybe she could dig up a Skeleton while she’s digging in the dirt.