Murders, she writes

The average American reader probably wouldn't realize that Martha Grimes is not English, although she writes classic English murder mysteries. She is, in fact, an American. She divides her time, however, between England and Maryland, where she is professor of English at Montgomery College. Exactly a year ago I read Martha Grimes's third mystery novel, ``The Anodyne Necklace.'' I immediately became a fan of both Miss Grimes and her hero-detective, superintendent Richard Jury of Scotland Yard, one of the most attractive sleuths in the genre.

Next I read her first two novels, ``The Man With the Load of Mischief'' and ``The Old Fox Deceiv'd.'' Then I read her latest two, ``The Dirty Duck,'' published last April, and ``Jerusalem Inn,'' published in November. All five novels have been published in hard cover by Little, Brown. The first three have also been published in paperback by Dell Publishing Company as part of the Murder Ink. Mystery Series.

All five novels display the hallmarks of the good mystery novel: good writing, interesting characters, and intriguing and suspenseful plots. Grimes's novels also display wit and humor, which she uses to subtly poke fun at some of England's more ridiculous social mores. She never loses her humanity, however. And then there is her attractive hero.

Tall, dark-haired, and handsome, Richard Jury makes females of all ages sit up and take notice when he walks into a room. Yet Jury's kind, compassionate nature is untainted by vanity or egotism. His intelligence and perception make him a good detective.

Jury is aided in his sleuthing by the equally attractive, although less charismatic, Melrose Plant. Jury and Plant met in Grimes's first novel, ``The Man With the Load of Mischief,'' when Jury came to Plant's small village to investigate a series of bizarre murders.

The later novels follow this same pattern: A murder or a series of murders brings Jury to a small English village inhabited by eccentric characters. And with Plant's help, Jury always uncovers more than just the identity of the murderer.

Plant, who holds the chair of French Romantic poetry at the University of London, was Earl of Caverness and Viscount Ardry until he relinquished his titles, to the chagrin of his snobbish Aunt Agatha. Lady Ardry, the American widow of Plant's uncle, is meddlesome, self-centered woman who does her best to interfere in her nephew's life and in Jury's investigations.

The cast of continuing characters includes Plant's old-fashioned butler; a young poetess admired by both Jury and Plant; Jury's disagreeable boss, Chief Superintendent Racer; and Racer's aptly named secretary, Fiona Clingmore.

After reading Martha Grimes's five novels, my initial opinion hasn't changed. She's a gem of a mystery writer.

A regular monthly column in the Book Review.

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