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Two stars for half of a four-star novel.
on July 12, 2006
For twenty years or longer, Martha Grimes has been one of my favorite mystery writers. Furthermore, in recent years, particularly in her Emma Graham series, she has emerged as an eloquent and graceful wordsmith. Her ability to create a mood, from sleepy and laid-back to threatening to comical, with a few well-placed impressionistic brush strokes sets her apart from other writers of the genre. Unfortunately, her emergence as a word stylist has been more than offset by her decline as a constructor of plots.
There is almost enough of a story line here for an economical, 200-page novel. Almost. Unfortunately, what we get is nearly 400 pages with no plot resolution; the story merely proceeds to a point and stops. I assume that Part 2 will be forthcoming -- for another 20 bucks, of course. Instead of a completed narrative, we're treated to half a story and a whole boatload of filler. She gives us one too many performances of "Medea: The Musical." It only works once per book, Ms. Grimes! Ditto the upstairs visits to alcoholic Aunt Aurora; the cab rides with the moronic Delbert; the trips to the diner in Cold Flat Junction, the musings on what lies beyond the line of trees at the horizon; the put-downs of Ree-Jane; the sabotaging of Miss Bertha's meals; and on and on and on. I often found myself thinking, "Not another one!"
Since Ms. Grimes' latest Richard Jury novel, The Old Wine Shades, suffers from the same defects as Belle Ruin -- no plot resolution and reams of marginally relevant filler -- I conclude that she has made some sort of deal with the devil to serialize her novels. Furthermore, the multiple editing errors that other reviewers have noted indicate the same thing - that Ms. Grimes is now cranking out her books assembly-line style, a la Tom Clancy. What a shame. What a loss.