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The Old Wine Shades (A Richard Jury Mystery) by Martha Grimes

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 1

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Pros

This was an entertaining novel, with a quite unexpected plot twist. It would not be correctly categorized as "literature" though, it is a mystery by Martha Grimes. In the British parlor mystery genre, like an updated Agatha Christie book. The characters sport cell phones, yet there is little gore. Murders take place mostly off camera. The main character is apparently a re-occurring character in her fiction. I might have understood him a little better if I had read all the books with Richard Jury in order. However, one can still enjoy the intrigue of the mystery reading this book on its own.


Cons

The very weird device of writing from the dog's point of view didn't work for me. It ascribed all kind motive and thought to an animal that was strangely out of place in a mystery novel. What was the point? If we are supposed to believe the dog had all the answers, all bets are off for the average criminal justice professional. Dear "Mungo" will not be allowed to testify in court. The whole book, thankfully, is not written from the angle. Most of it is from Richard Jury's point of view, and it briefly switches to Tilda and Timmy's. They are all humans.


Full Review

So a man walks into a pub. It's a nice British pub, called "The Old Wine Shades." Martha Grimes does a fine job with adjectives and painting a picture for the mind to imagine. I find many popular American writers write books that read like screenplays and are quite devoid of descriptive paragraphs or unusual adjectives. It is with pleasure, then, that I curl up with an old school established mystery author, such as Martha Grimes. Our hero, Richard Jury, meets a stranger in the pub who tells him a story. Harry Johnson says, he has a good friend named Hugh Gault who's wife and son, and dog have disappeared.

Is it a murder? A kidnapping? We don't know yet. We only know she was last seen looking at rental properties in Surrey over nine months ago with her autistic son, Robbie in tow. They had also brought their dog, Mungo. Mungo, on page one, is now living with Harry Johnson. He seems like a pleasant mutt who pays attention to the conversation as if he understands it. How is it that the dog has come to live with Harry? It seems the Hugh was so distraught over his family's disappearance that he has checked himself into a ward. The dog, which had disappeared with the wife, came back alone. Came back somehow, months after the disappearance.

Like any good detective, Richard Jury's curiosity is piqued. He has a lot of time off because of some side story regarding his police career. If I had read the books in order that might had interested me more. As it was, it appeared to be a convenient device to give our hero plenty of opportunity to investigate possible theories. And there are a lot of theories, both red herring and plausible that are thrown out there. I will give Ms Grimes kudos for an incredible plot twist three fourths of the way through the book which I will of course not disclose to you. It was properly unexpected, and yet well set up.

That said, most of the rest of the book wandered all over outer space. One wonders if she were trying to annoy her agent who may have pressed for another book in an already well known series. Publishers can be notorious about going with "what sells." Grimes name in conjunction with Richard Jury probably guaranteed a number of sales by devoted fans. If you are not a real fan I would not recommend this as your first jaunt into Richard Jury world.

There are a lot of asides regarding quantum physics. I was beginning to wonder if she were going to take us readers into the realm of science fiction or fantasy where all bets were off. I mean if aliens have abducted our poor lost woman that would explain the lack of fingerprints. Don't worry about having to understand string theory to get the gist. The character Harry Johnson, explains to Richard Jury all about Schrodinger's cat as patiently as if he were explaining it to you or I. Later on Richard Jury explains it to people he reflects with, conveniently explaining it to the reader once again. It was a tiresome aside though, because I had already taken off the table the idea that the mystery would be solved by some wrinkle in time.

I liked the well shaped character personalities. British society seems so much more class structured than we are in America. Here most people have a healthy respect for the authority of law officers. There it appears, police have the delicate task of having work around titled peers without offending them, and the raw freedom to interrogate common people however they like. It is fascinating to me too, how easily the stop for a drink. How much pub life culture differs from bar crawlers here. People bring dogs into both restaurants and bars, and even the sanatorium! I mean no disrespect to the author or her ability to write on these points. On the contrary, what you may find very enjoyable about this book is how it unselfconsciously describes their society. What you may not like about it, is the rambling meandering plot. Quite a bit seems repetitious.

The Amazon rating on this book is two stars out of five.


In Closing

These British writers are kind of funny. Perhaps it's just a coincidence, perhaps it's due to the collective unconscious. The opening of this novel reminded me eerily of a novel published by a small independent house, by a very less known author. That book was called, "So he takes the dog." That book had it's strong and weak points too. Any British mystery whodunit is enjoyable on a "figure it out level." However, neither of the two books are ones I would remember long. Definitely they are of the read and pass on, ilk.

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Comments

Sep 8, 2010 12:34am
galanti
I'm sorry but Mungo is smarter than most commentators.
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