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 Kate Morton
Published by Washington Square Press
Copyright © 2008
A genealogical mystery spanning nearly 100 years and 2 continents, “The Forgotten Garden” captivates the senses and the imagination.
Cassandra lived with her grandmother Nell in Brisbane, Australia, until recently when her grandmother died. Nell left Cassandra their home and the antiques business that they worked in together. In addition she left a somewhat perceptible secret which had implications to a mystery that Nell was trying to solve.
It was always a little odd how different Nell was from her sisters and the rest of her family, but Cassandra didn’t think much of it until after Nell’s death when her great aunts tell her that Nell had known for quite awhile now that she was not a blood relative. By way of a little white suitcase that Nell received after her father’s death and the diary that Nell kept of her own identity search thereafter, Cassandra begins to piece together the clues of Nell’s family history. This mystery will take her to London and then to a cottage and garden on the Cornish Coast where she will find links in her family history that she could not imagine. Through this journey of discovery through her ancestor’s tragic lives she will slowly begin to cope with her own tragic history and begin to move beyond it.
Kate Morton has written a riveting mystery riddled with loss and loneliness that ultimately ends in truth and contentment. This novel shifts back and forth between three main characters that lived decades apart. At the beginning of each chapter Morton clearly tells us what place and time period you are reading from so the book is in no way confusing. You would think that skipping between time periods might slow the book down; however, it provides the necessary history for the reader to see where Cassandra is headed or where she has been.
In addition, Morton’s characters in this book are often gloomy and burdened with secrets, and yet for a few of them she draws them towards the light making us take pleasure in their company. She also paints a moody yet beautiful picture of the Cornish Coast which is made all the more so when contrasted with the glaring sun and oppressive heat of Australia. She makes me want my own cottage on the Cornish Coast. “The Forgotten Garden” is a spellbinding novel with a surprising yet fitting climax that I highly recommend.
The Winter Ghosts
By Kate Mosse
Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Copyright © 2009
It is April of 1933 and Freddie, an Englishman, is in Toulouse, France looking for a man who can help him translate a very important letter. However, it is not what the letter says that seems to be important, but how he came across this letter.
When Freddie was a teenager he lost his brother George, a soldier during World War I. Freddie went many years trying to cope with this loss, but in 1924, on his 21st birthday, he snapped. He ended up spending a few months in a sanatorium to regain his physical and mental health.
Fast forward to 1928; Freddie finds himself driving through the French Pyrenees to meet some friends at a resort. He drives into a snow storm and ends up in an accident. He stumbles his way into a local village looking for assistance. He finds an inn where he is welcomed hospitably and invited to a local celebration. While there he meets the beautiful and delicate Fabrissa. From that point on Freddie and Fabrissa’s lives are entwined in a way that is too difficult for anyone to believe. This chance meeting will not only change Freddie’s outlook on life, but also change the outlook of an entire town.
Mosse has written a moving book about loss and grief in the wake of war and tragedy, and an oddly tragic love story that spans centuries. While our protagonist feels he has nothing to live for, his happening upon this village and Fabrissa helps him (albeit too simply) to come to terms with his loss, and he feels the strong and overpowering urge to find Fabrissa again and repay her kindness.
Shakespeare – The World as Stage
By Bill Bryson
Published by Atlas Books
Copyright © 2007
People love a good mystery. Even more than that though, people love to speculate on good mysteries and turn their opinions into facts. Such is the case with the poet and playwright William Shakespeare. But, what can we really know about Shakespeare?
Volumes upon volumes of books have been written about Shakespeare, and yet here is another volume. But this one is a little different. Many Shakespeare researchers and authors often go into their work with preconceived notions, and they try to prove those notions anyway possible. Bill Bryson on the other hand removes suppositions and opinions and presents only the facts available. And from these he shows us what we can know for a certainty about William Shakespeare. One might find what we can know to be a little shocking considering his status as literary genius and legend. This book is a must read for those interested in literary history, or for those looking for a concise background on one of the world’s most famous literary figure.