The Man with a Load of Mischief, by Martha Grimes

26 Feb

The Man with a Load of Mischief, by Martha Grimes

This is the first book in the successful Richard Jury mysteries series. The back blurb reads:

At the Man with a Load of Mischief, they found a deadman with his head stuck in a beer keg. At the Jack and Hammer, another body was stuck out on the beam of the pub’s sign, replacing the mechanical man who kept the time. Two pubs. Two murders. One Scotland Yard inspector called in to help.

Detective Chief Inspector Richard Jury arrives in Long Piddleton and finds everyone in the postcard village looking outside of town for the killer. Except for Melrose Plant. A keen observer of human nature, he points Jury in the right direction: towards the darkest parts of his neighbors’ hearts…”

The Man with a Load of Mischief is one of the so-called ‘cozy mysteries.’ Whatever murder or mayhem occurs during the story, it is never on stage but rather behind a curtain. The ripples from these events are felt and seen as the story unfolds, but there’s no gore, and the author doesn’t linger on the brutal or the cruel. That is not her purpose. Indeed, it would seem that her objective is to engage the reader to race Jury and Plant to answer the questions posed by the plot, in the manner of Ellery Queen or Dame Christie.

Even though this is Ms Grimes first book, it is a very engrossing read with very few awkward spots. In fact, I didn’t really notice the few things I have quibbles with on the first pass, because the prose flows so beautifully that one can easily read through to the last page in one sitting without consciously deciding to do so.

While the pace of the book never seems rushed, the reader meets quite a good many people, and things seem to happen one on top of each other, as all the events in the book take place in barely ten days. Most of the characters tend to evoke strong reactions—either positive or negative. On a second reading, some of these characters can become slightly less real, not as well developed, their characterization not as polished. More caricature than people, if you will. And yet, they still evoke the same strong reaction in the reader as they did upon meeting them.

As for my quibbles…

One of them is the presence of a few passages, beautifully and evocatively written, that do absolutely nothing for either the plot or the character development. Mercifully, these are neither long nor many, but other than showcasing Ms Grimes mastery of the language, they are completely extraneous and unnecessary.

Another one is the time and space devoted to the introduction of a few minor characters whose only purpose—in this book at least—seems to be to set up the two main characters. This in itself is an excellent device, as it shows the readers who these two are, instead of telling them. On the second reading, though, I realize that these minor characters are a little too well developed themselves for the role they actually play in this book. It is as if Ms Grimes had several other books already in mind, and decided to introduce these characters ahead of time. Which is all good and well for readers going on to read the next book or books in the series, but otherwise it clutters this story.

All in all, a very enjoyable introduction to a new-to-me writer. Now I have some twenty other books to look forward to!

9 out of 10

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