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Belle Ruin Paperback – September 5, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Grimes, well known for her extensive Richard Jury mystery series, has struck gold with precocious 12-year-old Emma Graham, who was featured in two of Grimes' previous novels. Basking in the glow of new-found fame after narrowly escaping a murder attempt, Emma has her hands full reporting for the local newspaper, waitressing in her mom's seedy hotel restaurant and performing in her brother's low-budget production of "Medea: The Musical." She also creates havoc for the hotel's guests, hobnobs with the local sheriff and trades barbs with her archenemy, Ree-Jane Davidow. Nonetheless, Emma's never ending quest to discover the identity of a mysterious girl only she can see, as well as her passion for solving the 20-year-old mystery surrounding a baby kidnapped from the once famous Belle Rouen hotel are always her top priorities. Grimes' pungent prose and catchy dialog breathe life into her charming young narrator and the novels' idiosyncratic cast of characters. While the fact that Grimes picks up threads from two previous books may disorient newcomers, Emma's endearing ways and sparkling observations-"It isn't frogs you get in your throat, it's memories"-will leave readers eager for the next installment.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Grimes, best known for her 18 police procedurals starring Richard Jury, launched a new series a few years ago in which a preteen girl in Spirit Lake, an American small town, serves as an unlikely sleuth. There is nothing unsettling about a preteen detective--witness a spate of juvenile and young-adult mysteries (even Harry Potter can be considered a detective at times). What is unsettling and clunky about this new series (previous books are Hotel Paradise, 1996, and Cold Flat Junction, 2000) is the distressingly uneven voice of the narrator, 12-year-old Emma Graham, who helps out at her mother's falling-apart resort hotel. Emma narrates her own adventures mostly in the voice of a very educated woman, except that every and now then, Grimes, seemingly remembering that her heroine is a kid, has Emma explain how she came to know a particular quote or happened to have such a grown-up insight. At the other moments, Grimes just yanks poor Emma back to a version of kidspeak. The latest adventure centers on a burned-down hotel, Belle Rouen, which, of course, holds a buried past that only Emma can unearth. While the debut novel, Hotel Paradise, held promise as a character-driven literary thriller, the last two have been disappointing. Grimes fans will still want to read this one, but it's definitely a misstep. Connie Fletcher
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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.
I hope that Martha Grimes will focus on this series, and let us hear more from Emma!
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.