Monday, May 5, 2014
The Man With A Load Of Mischief
I have read The Man With a Load of Mischief many times. So many, I have lost count. Being a murder mystery, one would think that knowing whodunnit would remove the joy from the read. One would be wrong.
This is the first in what currently stands as twenty-two novels featuring Scotland Yard detective Richard Jury. Although the series is labeled as such, these books are as much about Jury’s best friend and sidekick, Melrose Plant. The joy of this first book is seeing their friendship from the beginning.
They are brought together as Jury has been sent to the small village in Northamptonshire to investigate a series of murders, all of which have taken place in a local pub. Plant is, literally, the lord of the manor; he is quickly removed from the list of suspects in one of the funniest scenes in the book. He and Jury join forces to solve the murders.
Although I now know who the killer is, every time I read this book I am amazed at how well plotted the murder is. From the beginning, hints and clues are given. They are often tossed in casually, almost as an aside. They are there. The guilty party is obvious, once one knows who it is.
What keeps me coming back to this book, however, are the characters in this town. Each of them is unique and the relationships among them are beautifully drawn. Many of them have secrets in their past, each of which is uncovered as the story unfolds. True to life in a small village, everyone knows everyone and thinks they know everything. The reactions as each learns about the others are priceless.
Many of the people we meet we will see again. Which is why, finally, I love this book and keep coming back to it. As the series progresses, these characters will evolve. Some will become quite important to Jury over time; others will be used for comic relief. Here, however, they are new to Jury and they are new to the reader. It is like meeting old friends all over again.
Martha Grimes, the author, does what so many others have failed to do. She honors the English mystery and subverts it simultaneously. Plant has an aunt named, of all things, Agatha. No doubt, this is an homage to the queen of English mystery. This woman, however, is American, brought to England by Plant’s uncle who has long since passed away leaving this albatross to make Plant’s life hell. The character reminds me of Bertie Wooster’s aunts.
As often as I have read this book, there are still passages that make me laugh out loud and still passages that I just love to come back to. The initial meeting between Plant and Jury doesn’t happen until Chapter Eight and I always grin when I get to it. By that time, we have enough background on both men to know that this a bromance for the ages.
I re-read this book Sunday in one big gulp. It worked its magic again and made me feel that, like the resolution to a good mystery, everything will fall into place as it should.