I’ve just finished reading The Blue Last by Martha Grimes. If you haven’t ever read her Richard Jury mysteries, there are 22 of them in print and one coming out in June, 2014.
I began reading these back in the 80s. I have not been disappointed with any of them although I did find The Five Bells and Bladebone a little empty at the end.
A little background info on these mysteries helps a lot in sparking your interest. First, Martha Grimes is an American writing about the UK. Unlike other American authors who I will not name, she has a great grip on her settings. Little digs about Americans can be found in the books, but they aren’t mean-spirited. Usually they are pretty humorous and I can recognize myself in the comments. Like why do Americans smile all the time? I say it’s because we’re happy —-
Back to The Blue Last. Each of these novels is titled with a name of an imaginary English pub. The Blue Last was the last bombing site of WWII in London and recently new construction has turned up the bones of people killed in the bombing.
Richard Jury lost his mother to an air raid in London and his father in the RAF. He’s pretty sensitive to bombings during the war. When his friend asks him to help determine the true identity of one of the people killed, Jury is at first reluctant to do so. But once he finds out his friend is ill, he feels he must help.
The essence of these mysteries are the characters themselves. Richard Jury is painfully handsome – a point you will get as women swoon and faint around him. He’s also a loner and puts this down to being orphaned. He isn’t anti-social, rather his friends are the same sort – a bit disenfranchised, lonely and except for their friends, alone. He has three friends in particular that live in his building. The lovely Carol-Anne (Jury’s descriptions of her are priceless), Mrs. Wasserman, a survivor of The Holocaust with permanent anxiety and a musician, Stan Wheeler. Jury takes care of the women in particular.
His closest ally after Sergeant Wiggins, a hypochondriac sidekick, is Melrose Plant. Plant was born to the aristocracy but has rejected it. The money he kept. He has the ability to go anywhere and do anything – and he does. He also has a cadre of friends like him – eccentric, alone and a bit detached from reality. He has one cross to bear in the form of his Aunt Agatha, an aunt by marriage that he can barely tolerate. He thinks about murdering her as she drinks his tea and wolfs down the tea cakes.
There is a great deal of humor in these books that make them enjoyable reading, particularly with the characters. They are also sharply written and the plots are astounding. I wish I had Ms. Grimes’ imagination.
The Blue Last has all the elements of a Grimes mystery. A painting which may be a priceless relic, a trip to Florence, an age-old mystery from WWII, sympathetic characters, Melrose Plant in disguise to help Jury and an ending I didn’t see coming AT ALL. All of this woven into the particular sadness that Christmas brings and the need to celebrate whatever you can.
I highly recommend this title. And if you haven’t read any of her mysteries – wow have you got a treat coming! I had to immediately purchase the two titles immediately after this one and once I’m done with those I will be re-reading all of them – until June when I can grab her newest one!