Saturday, 25 February 2012

Martha Grimes and the old-fashioned mystery novel

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

Last year I spent a while on a Jeremy Northam forum - which I haven't visited for a while, sorry guys - and I came to Martha Grimes because her detective, Richard Jury, was suggested as a good fit for a future Northam performance.  I was intrigued, so I thought that I would give her a go.  I think that she is American and lesser-known in the UK, so I resorted to Amazon marketplace to track her down and got the first few books in the series (postage costing more than the actual book).  I like mysteries, and I know people on Twitter and the forum who like her, so I was confident that I would enjoy them.

I read the first one a while ago - "The Man with a Load of Mischief" - and I have just finished reading the second in the series, "The Old Fox Deceiv'd" (titles that are taken from pub names).  I took a long time to read the second one, as I got distracted and lost interest.  I wanted to like them more than I did, and the character of Richard Jury hasn't really hooked my interest; perhaps I'm so used to the normal run of damaged detectives with broken marriages and alcohol dependency issues, that I can't adjust to a detective with no marketing gimmick.  Richard Jury is tall, handsome, has a natural charm with the opposite sex and loves an expanse of untouched, virgin snow - I find him pleasant but not especially memorable.  I will continue with the series in the future to see if it grows on me, but so far the main effect of "The Old Fox Deceiv'd" was to remind me how much I enjoyed Josephine Tey's "Brat Farrar" when I was a teenager.

I have been meaning to re-read some Agatha Christie, but my experience of reading Martha Grimes has made me a bit scared that I might find I have grown out of the old fashioned murder mystery.  I went straight from Enid Blyton's Famous Five and - my favourite - the Five Find-Outers and Dog to Agatha Christie, and her novels are so much a part of my own personal reading history that I would hate to find that I no longer enjoy her writing.  My husband says that he feels his attention span has decreased, and I'm not sure that mine hasn't also.  I'm a bit disturbed to wonder if my dwindling attention span has led me to lack the patience for a gentler, slower mystery.  I hope that isn't the case.


  1. Thanks for this post Amy. I think you may have a point about attention spans, or maybe it's just that the multiplication of distractions means we want to consume text in much smaller chunks. I began reviewing books to force myself to slow down and pay more attention - and get into 'flow' a bit more.

    And then I discovered twitter...

  2. I think that you are probably right, Rich - there are so many distractions in modern life (I find Twitter fatal too). I can't remember the last time that I was able to spend a day just reading, or when I last had the time to dedicate to reading a book straight through.

    My own reading patterns probably don't help, as I do tend to read a few books at a time and swap between them depending on my mood. I'm similar in hoping that writing about the books I've read might help me to pay more attention - I am too much a quick, surface reader - and I've taken to using index cards as bookmarks so that I can note down ideas and quotes as I go.