Thursday’s Old Favourite: Martha Grimes’s Inspector Jury Novels

Martha Grimes is an American author who writes a mystery series featuring Scotland Yard detective, Richard Jury. She’s quite an old hand at it, has done her research, and each novel in this series (to date she’s up to No. 24) is named after a different English pub, while many feature a different part of England. They are a wonderful mix of cosy crime (English country life, quaint characters, charming locations) and grim murder. The crimes are varied and can be quite chilling – I’m not sure I would ever read The Lamorna Wink a second time – while the plots are inventive.

Here’s what I particularly like about the series:

  • Jury has his demons (to do with the war and a lack of living relatives) but he’s altogether charming, is a smart policeman and gets on well with the suspects – always handy.
  • Jury’s unlikely sidekick is ex-peer, Melrose Plant, who is loads of fun, as he’s the amateur sleuth Jury depends on for entrée into situations where social standing can be of help. Plant is also funny, odd things happen to him, and he has a wonderful butler (Ruthven) and a tiresome aunt who is always demanding tea and cake.
  • Long Piddleton, where Plant’s baronial home is located, is also the home of other quirky characters who meet regularly at the Jack and Hammer.
  • Sergeant Higgins – Jury’s reliable second in command who, as a chronic hypochondriac, carries with him an assortment of drugs and potions to ward off a variety of ailments. He might not be the policeman to fight off a thug or chase down a fleeing criminal, but he always gets on well with the kitchen staff and picks up the gossip.
  • Cyril the Scotland Yard cat, who is always sneaking into Chief Superintendent Race’s office, and who has a little running sub-plot of his own.
  • The titles are as interesting as the crimes (I Am the Only Running Footman; Help the Poor Struggler; The Old Contemptibles) to name but three.
  • There’s often an interesting child witness who befriends either Jury, who is instantly appealing, or Melrose, who has to win them over in order to learn what they know/save them from danger. (Grimes incidentally is brilliant with child narrators, a skill she uses to great effect in her Emma Graham series.)
  • While you might find these books hard to find in bookshops, particularly outside of the US, they are now being released as ebooks.

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