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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.
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on June 19, 2006
Yes, Belle Ruin is a sequel. That means you have to read the books that came before it or it can be rather confusing. And, like most books, you can't skim through it and expect to get the point. Besides, Martha Grimes' prose is worth reading every word. The characters are multi-dimensional--you'll find things to like, love, and dislike in all of them. And the story is like real life; sometimes there's no neat, tidy ending. I loved the bravery of the open-ended ending in Hotel Paradise and that theme continues in Belle Ruin. If you're looking for a tidy, happily-ever-after ending, read a fairy tale. If you're looking for a beautifully written, quirky, slice-of-life mystery, read anything by Martha Grimes.
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on September 27, 2005
Emma Graham, a precocious 12-year-old girl growing up in mid-twentieth century, small-town America has been heartily adopted by Martha Grimes fans old and new. Emma waits tables and serves the quirky and crotchety elderly inhabitants of the crumbling but sedate residence hotel owned by her mother. Emma's curiosity, unmatched by any cat or fictional adolescent sleuth, has already uncovered two separate murders in the first two books, HOTEL PARADISE and COLD FLAT JUNCTION.

The notoriety from those adventures has turned Emma into a local celebrity and landed her a job as a cub reporter at the local newspaper, The Conservative. BELLE RUIN finds Emma with writer's block while she tries to write a final chapter to the series. She starts looking into past events that took place at Belle Ruin, or more properly, Belle Rouen, an exclusive lakeside resort hotel that burned to the ground during that mystery-laden period 40 years in the past. Emma's browsing through the newspaper morgue in search of story ideas discloses a mysteriously abandoned case of an unresolved infant kidnapping. Naturally, Emma, with her indefatigable nose for news, begins to dig and uncovers more buried secrets of the small town's past.

Martha Grimes has populated the plot with a colorful cast of characters that includes a garage mechanic, a taxi driver, her alcoholically experimental Aunt Aurora, the blue-eyed sheriff on whom Emma has a huge crush, the hated Ree-Jane, and the mysterious disappearing girl from the previous novels. Emma's offbeat brother Will and his talented pal Mill create a locally written and produced version of "Medea," in which Emma is cast as Deux ex Machina in perhaps the most abridged version ever brought to the stage. Complete with a derivative musical score, the performances become a standing-room only hit, adding comedic relief to this slice of life coming-of-age tale.

Emma's wry and often mature-for-her-age observations on human nature belie her young years, but make for joyful reading. Grimes's well-established reputation for depth and breadth of characters and plot is evident in BELLE RUIN. Whether or not we can believe that there is a 12-year-old girl, even in the halcyon years of the mid-twentieth century, who is as bright, precocious and observant as Emma is rather beside the point. The story is as full of life and spice as Emma and should be welcomed by Grimes's legion of readers.

--- Reviewed by Roz Shea
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People are all over the place in reviewing this one and, for those who notice such things, I'm quick to give two- and three-star ratings when I feel it's appropriate -- but not here! I read this work carefully and Martha Grimes has here reached the reserved level of achievement that we call "literature".

I was quite concerned that Martha Grimes was "written out" subsequent to my reading of her 2006 work, The Old Wine Shades (Richard Jury Novels), a Richard Jury series mystery and one of the worst books I've ever encountered by a major author. I still don't know for certain that Grimes continues to write first-class material because "Belle Ruin" came out in 2003 but I'm loathe to believe that anyone who could generate such a fine novel as this one could be permanently doomed on the literary front.

This work is obviously a sequel and I have read none of the previous books in the series but that bothered me not at all -- this book stands prominently on its own (albeit, there are allusions to the prior books.) I will certainly go back and pick up the prequels but, as I bought this title in a junk store for 50 cents, that's why I read it first.

The story, transpiring in New England around 1959, is all about a very precocious and deviously shrewd 12-year old girl who decides to investigate a kidnapping (suspiciously akin to the Baby Lindbergh case) which transpired 20 years in the past at the luxurious Belle Rouen Hotel. This girl, Emma by name, has been given a job by the local newspaper editor/publisher to write up a serial account of her own recent escape from murder, a topic about which all the locals consider to be really hot gossip.

There are multiple sub-plots (all enticing) but the key here is that Grimes has pulled off a descriptive expression coup. By way of utilizing this endearing young girl, tenoned with the common vernacular of the era, (the tale is told in First Person from Emma's perspective) Grimes gets away with bluntly calling people as she sees them: "stupid," "dumb," "harelips," "hunchbacks," "Mongolian Idiots," and, "retards". These now politically incorrect adjectives and nouns are thus effectively conveyed without harm to the author herself, a clever device. The nostalgia of "spitballs" also made me grin about the good old days.

But I think what many readers/reviewers are most up-in-arms about is the ending... they don't like it and that's all I'll say about it specifically; however, I did like the ending. Why? It goes to the book's title: Belle Ruin, A NOVEL [emphasis mine]. Yes, this is a mystery, and a great one at that. But this is clearly a novel, in the same sense that The Great Gatsby and Peyton Place are novels. This is the writing style and I think that this is what train-wrecked the book for many devoted cozy murder genre fans. I love a great novel and, here, that's what we have, although it is also a mystery.

I did encounter an entry that I'll go out on a limb and assert was an anachronistic goof by the author: "...he put in a coin and a can of Coke dropped down." I worked in many a gas station in my youth (the 60s) and in 1959, I'm pretty certain that soda vending machines only vended bottles of pop, not cans. Even the pull off pop tops weren't around until much later than 1959 as far as I can recall. I could be wrong about all this but I don't think so!

There are even some unique cocktail recipes listed, ergo: an "Appledew" with Dewar's Scotch, apple juice, ice, and a straw. Yum!!!

In summary, if you're a murder mystery genre addict then you may find this one of only mild interest. But for those of you who savor a terrific novel, I think you'll find this book to be pure treasure.

Highly recommended.
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on September 23, 2005
I have to agree with all the reviewers that were disappointed with "Belle Ruin:" this is definitely a very badly edited book that also failed to live up to (my) expectations.

Budding newspaper reporter, twelve year old Emma Graham, needs a good, juicy story for her two part series. And when she hears about the old abandoned hotel, Belle Rouen (whom locals refer to as Belle Ruin), that was mysteriously burnt to the ground one day, she knows that she's onto something -- esp when she discovers that the hotel was also the site of another scandal, the kidnapping of a wealthy couple's baby. Neither crime was ever solved, and Emma is keen to see if she can uncover what really happened -- that is if she can get time away from her own boring and time consuming chores!

Again, I have only myself to blame for this. In spite of some rave reviews, I couldn't get into "Hotel Paradise;" so what made me think that I would be able to enjoy "Belle Ruin?" Needless to say, previous reviewers are right: if you haven't read "Hotel Paradise" or "Cold Flat Junction" DON'T PICK UP THIS BOOK. You really need to have steeped yourself with the prose style from those two books, as well as have immersed yourself in the events from them to perfectly understand and enjoy what's going on in this book. The other thing is that you like it when a resolution is spelt out for you at the end of the novel, you also might want to give this a miss: because I was skimming, I missed the 'sort-of' plot resolution and had to go back and reread the last few chapters in order to understand what had happened. Part of my problem was that I really didn't take to twelve year old Emma, and found her habit of slipping hot peppers into the meals of the crabby Miss Bertha, rather mean spirited. I suppose that it was supposed to show how spirited and mischievous Emma was, except that I didn't find it so. (And perhaps my attitude has a lot to do with having gone to an all girls school and the fact that by the time I was twelve the nuns had already impressed on me what was done as well as what was not done so that I may not be the best person to ask about acceptable twelve year old behavior!)

I will admit, however, that I did enjoy Martha Grimes' dreamy and haunting descriptions of the locale as well as her colourful portrayals of some of the characters; but this did not make up for the poor editing and a story that went no where. My advice? Borrow "Belle Ruin" from the library if you enjoyed the previous two installments in this series, because it really isn't worth the hardcover price.
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on May 31, 2006
I really liked "Belle Ruin." It was the first I read of the Emma Graham books. Steven King says the willing suspension of disbelief is a clean and jerk. (I'm remembering, not quoting SK) Once you get the weight over your head, you can hold it easily, unless something knocks it down. I found Emma took a bit of effort and a couple of failures to lift, but I finally got her willingly suspended and then I loved her.

Ms. Grimes has always been tempted to the mystical/paranormal/occult but this side of fantasy. I think with Emma she has found a voice for this side of her writer's mind.
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on February 24, 2011
Read through all the reviews both positive and negative. Have to agree with some of those who felt that the writing in this book was not on par with Grimes' Hotel Paradise.
Having said that, I'm still going to give this novel four stars as I believe it is worth four stars just to spend time with Emma. The delightful scenes between Emma and her "cast of characters" are well worth the cost of the book.
I have just purchased the newest in this series, have had this one on the TBR stack for a while.....having a whole lot of fun now that I finally got around to reading it.
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on March 20, 2011
Belle Ruin continues the story started in Hotel Paradise and Cold Flat Junction. It is a charming tale told by a 12 year old girl. The time period seems to be sometime in the 50s or 60s. It will definitely take you back to these simpler times. You really should read the novels in sequence. I love spending time with Emma and the other "characters" in her life. The mystery is there, but you must read carefully to follow all the details. This is a wonderful series by Ms. Grimes, and I truly hope she writes many more in the future!
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on August 29, 2005
I loved this book. It is another beautifully done exploration of a crime from the past coming to light with the help of Emma Graham, 12 year-old detective. I love the characters in this series- they seem so real to me.

In this story, Emma decides to figure out what really happened at the Belle Rouen 20 years ago when a young child was kidnapped. The Belle was once an elegant hotel, but it is now the ruin of the title due to a fire. Grimes' writing is so evocative that I felt that I could actually see the ruins of the once-great hotel.

I love the Richard Jury novels (well, most of them anyway), but I'd much rather read about Emma and company.
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on September 22, 2014
First I want to say I really like Martha Grimes's books. My mother and I do a little "book club" between ourselves and we love the "Richard Jury" books. We enjoy having a series to read as that generally gives you a better appreciation of the characters, one of the points we both enjoy about her books.
That said, this group of four books about the young 12 yr old girl, Emma Graham, was slightly weird. This particular book had to be ordered as a paperback, as it was not available as an E book, which seemed strange as the fourth book and the first two were in E book form.
The part that I had trouble relating to was the age of this girl and how much she didn't fit that age group. Not a horrible thing, but it would seem more plausible if she was older. All the books in this series repeated itself over and over, and the most worrysome point was it never seemed to come to a full conclusion at the end of all the books. It really seemed like one long book that left you unsure at the end.
Now for the good parts and why I gave it at least 3 stars, I loved reading about the food at the hotel and how she would make those crazy mixed drinks for the old aunt and of course all the characters, some very funny and others just damaged. I'm not sure what to tell you about reading this series yourself. I do like Martha Grimes, she's a wonderful author. Maybe read the first in the series "Hotel Paradise" and judge for yourself.
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