Archive for January, 2010


Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

It’s been more than three years since Martha Grimes dazzled critics with the New York Times bestselling mystery DUST. Now Scotland Yard Chief Superintendent Richard Jury is back in THE BLACK CAT (Viking Publishing, April 6, 2010; $25.95, 336 pp) and the twenty-second book in the series is brimming with the atmosphere, droll humor and introspective melancholy that have intrigued her fans for decades. DUST ended with a sudden and horrific auto accident of Jury’s lover Lu Aguilar, leaving him more remote and suspicious than ever as he ties to solve a perplexing murder of a young women behind the local pub THE BLACK CAT. The only witness appears to be the pub’s actual black cat.

The proceedings grow grimmer with the reappearance Harry Johnson, Jury’s personal “Moriarty,” the debonair cold-blooded killer from THE OLD WINE SHADES and DUST. Along with Harry Johnson comes Jury’s favorite dog Mungo, who returns to once again play a pivotal role in catching a killer.

Grimes’ garrulous cast of characters from Long Piddleton make their regular sorties into the action, and of course faithful sidekick Melrose Plant supplies the quips and wit to keep the action moving.

Written with the elegance, verve and grace of the best of her Richard Jury series, Grimes delivers again in THE BLACK CAT.

Rave Reviews for DUST

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

“Both [THE OLD WINE SHADES and DUST] are delightful, surprising, even magical … witty novels that Grimes concocts. They truly are novel and, once come upon, they can become necessary.”
Washington Post, January 8, 2007

“Following hard upon the action of 2006’s twisty THE OLD WINE SHADES, Grimes’ equally intricate 21st Richard Jury mystery DUST brings the Scotland Yard Superintendent to a shady London hotel to investigate the murder of wealthy bachelor Billy Maples. This excellent series consistently entertains, and in a way that’s accessible to newcomers.”
Publishers Weekly, November 27, 2006

Series author explains ‘animalist’ aims

Monday, January 11th, 2010

Northwest Passages, March 12, 2008

Current Correspondent

Fortunately for her readers, Martha Grimes has a hard time letting go. “Everything seems to turn into a series with me even when I don’t mean it to,” said Grimes, a Capitol Hill resident who is best known for the 22 mystery novels she has written about Richard Jury, a Scotland Yard detective. Although she intended for her Jury stories to become a series, she didn’t expect it of her eight other books.

“I enjoy these characters a lot,” Grimes said after a talk at Olsson’s Books & Records in Dupont Circle late last month. “I really like thinking about them, watching them, seeing what they’re going to do. I write about these people, and I get really connected to them and I just cannot let them go.”

One of her favorites among the newer protagonists is Andi Oliver, a young woman battling amnesia and animal cruelty. She first appeared in 1999 in Grimes’ “Biting the Moon” to take on dog fighting, hunting and wild-animal profiteers. At Olsson’s, the tall, slender 76-year-old author spoke about Oliver’s return in “Dakota,” published last month. This time, Oliver tackles pig farming in North Dakota.

Although Grimes is sending a message through her character, she doesn’t consider herself an animal-rights activist. “I’m not,” she said. “I’m not really active doing anything except writing. You can call me an animalist if you want.”

Grimes has always had a soft spot for animals, but it intensified about 35 years ago, after she watched “The Guns of Autumn,” a documentary about hunting. “I was so appalled watching the things some of these hunters did. I mean, you know, standing over a deer with a handgun pointed at the deer’s head — things like that. I stopped eating meat immediately.”

Grimes found the research for “Dakota” difficult to take. But she is passionate about the subject and wanted to share it with readers. “I feel that fiction will get to more people than nonfiction,” she said, citing Gail Eisnitz’s “Slaughterhouse” as an example. “When you have a book called ‘Slaughterhouse’ sitting on a table, how many people are going to buy it? How many people are going to read it?”

Most people don’t want to see what is going on at animal factories, she said, “but if you don’t see it, you don’t know what’s going on. I know there is this perception, this feeling, that if you know something like this is going on, then you have to do something about it. No, you do not. You don’t have to do something about it. But the fact that so many people think you have to do something about it keeps them from wanting to know anything about it. At least if you know, then you can do something about it.” In addition to writing about the topic, Grimes is donating 50 percent of the profits from “Dakota” to Last Chance for Animals and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, an organization she has supported for years. She was accompanied at Olsson’s by Dr. Neal Barnard, founder and president of the committee, which promotes vegetarian and vegan diets in addition to alternatives to using animals in medical education and research.

Grimes, who was born in Pittsburgh and grew up in Maryland, graduated from the University of Maryland but found her writing footing in graduate school at the University of Iowa. (She ultimately received her master’s from Maryland, though.) “I got into the poetry workshop not because I was a poet but because my boyfriend was in the poetry workshop. I’d never written a line of poetry.”

She stuck with the genre until she switched to fiction at about age 40. The decision came as “a direct result of a poem I had written called ‘Waiting for the Hit Man.’ I finished writing the poem and I thought, ‘Wait a minute, wait a minute. Maybe I should be writing fiction because all my poetry … it was sort of dramatic.’” She decided on British mysteries — “because I like to read

British mysteries” — and published her first, “The Man With a Load of Mischief,” in 1981, after reading about an English pub with the same name.

Grimes has published at least one book a year for the past 25 years. She writes every day, and her books typically take one year from conception to publication. It’s the conception that often takes Grimes by surprise. “It doesn’t really begin with an idea as such; it just begins with a shot of something, a scene,” she said. “I don’t know the plot. I don’t know why someone killed Whozywhatsit. I just discover it in the course of writing.”

But it’s always clear when it’s done. In fact, “there were one or two occasions when I knew what I wanted the last line to be, and I wrote the book so that that would be the last line. That sounds a little artificial, which I guess it is, but there are things that grab a hold of me that I really love and I just want them to be in it.” Grimes is currently working on her next Jury book, and she plans to bring Andi Oliver back soon, although she isn’t sure what animal- rights topic the character will tackle next.

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An Author Gets Back at Publishing

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

New York Times
August 20 2003


WASHINGTON – “I was fired from Knopf!” said the mystery writer Martha Grimes. “Sonny didn’t want the next Jury book,” she said, speaking of Sonny Mehta, editor in chief of Alfred A. Knopf, and Ms. Grimes’s 18-book series about an urbane British detective, Richard Jury, all named after English pubs, like “The Blue Last” and “The Grave Maurice.”

Nearly 10 years later, Ms. Grimes speaks as if the hurt lingers. Knopf dropped her, she said, probably because at that time she wasn’t earning back her advances.

Never mind. Now Ms. Grimes, 72, whose Jury novels are regularly best sellers, is having her revenge. She has written “Foul Matter,” just out from Viking, a sendup of the publishing industry, with characters, her publicist says coyly, who may bear a resemblance to real people. There is plenty of inside information about publishing, but it is also a comic adventure full of quirky characters and plot twists.

“The woman is brutal,” said Andrew Vachss, the mystery novelist, who is an old friend of Ms. Grimes. “This book is all-out war.”

“Foul Matter” – it’s the term for an unedited manuscript – is to publishing what Elmore Leonard’s “Get Shorty” was to movies, a dissection of greed, hypocrisy and ambition. Publishers have been taken over by German conglomerates like Blundenraven and the real-life Bertelsmann. Companies have names like Queeg & Hyde, Grundge and Dreck Inc. An editor called Bill Mnemic regularly steals other houses’ authors.

In the book a diabolical best-selling mystery writer names Paul Giverney agrees to jump ship at his old publisher and sign up with Mackenzie-Haack, but only if it gets rid of another, more literary author, Ned Isaly, who makes less money than Giverney

Giverney’s motive is to prove that the business is so corrupt that publishers will go to any length to make money. But Isaly’s contract is unbreakable, so the firm’s head, Bobby Mackenzie, orders an editor, Clive Esterhaus, to have him killed. A Mackenzie author and Mafia informer in witness protection finds two hit men to do the job. The problem is that they insist on reading Isaly’s work before killing him, and they turn out to be amateur literary critics.

Ms. Grimes is cagey about who the book’s real-life antecedents are. Is Bobby Mackenzie supposed to be Sonny Mehta? Mackenzie is brilliant and canny, words applied to Mr. Mehta, who took over Knopf in 1987. Like Mr. Mehta, Mackenzie keeps a bottle of spirits in his desk, and he has added commercial authors to a previously rarefied list. Of course, this is a spoof, and any resemblance stops there.

“A couple of people have mentioned Sonny as a model,” Ms. Grimes said. But she added, “I do consider Sonny to be some kind of publishing genius.”

“I really admire him,” she continued. She is hardly suggesting that Mr. Mehta would take out a contract on one of his own authors, she said.

“There’s only one element of Sonny in Bobby Mackenzie,” she said. “Sonny has a lot of power. It isn’t inconceivable that he would demonstrate power for its own sake.”

Paul Bogaards, the director of public relations at Knopf, said that Ms. Grimes and Mr. Mehta “had an amicable parting.” He said that Mr. Mehta had not read the book.

Ms. Grimes says parts of her are in all the authors she portrays in the book: the best-selling Giverney, the purist Isaly, the unpretentious mystery writer Jamie. Clive, who in the end does the right thing, “is an amalgam of a number of people.”

But what about Mortimer Durban, Giverney’s agent, who is ruining publishing by getting huge advances for authors that they can’t earn back? The name seems like a combination of two well-known real-life figures, Mort Janklow and Amanda Urban. “I wasn’t even thinking of it,” she said.

“Foul Matter” is one of several recent novels depicting publishing in a bad light. In “The Last Days of Publishing” (University of Massachusetts Press) by Tom Englehardt, a Pantheon editor resigned in protest when his boss, Andre Schiffrin, was forced out by S. I. Newhouse. As in “Foul Matter,” publishing has been taken over by German conglomerates. Now the editor has to report to his ex-wife and a slimy former hippie.

German conglomerates have also taken over in “The Storyteller” (Doubleday) by Arthur Reid, a pseudonym for Howard Kaminsky, a longtime publishing executive, and his wife, Susan, a former editor at Dutton. Here the subject is plagiarism. An author who can’t get published obtains a cache of manuscripts that he publishes under his own name. They become best sellers.

But why would Ms. Grimes, who admits to an annual income of over a million dollars from publishing, have a grudge against the industry? Well, success has not come easily.

In her autobiographical books, “Hotel Paradise” and “Cold Flat Junction,” she describes growing up a smart, neglected child whose mother was part owner of a resort hotel in western Maryland. Ms. Grimes’s father, a city attorney in Pittsburgh, died when she was 6.

She graduated from the University of Maryland and did postgraduate work at the University of Iowa. She wanted to be a poet and studied alongside Donald Justice and Philip Levine.

Ms. Grimes married Edwin Van Holland and had a son, Kent, who today is her publicist. The couple divorced.

For 15 years, while bringing up Kent in Maryland, she taught English at Montgomery College, a community college, at its Takoma Park campus, “an awful job,” she said, and tried to write. In her late 40’s, she began sending out “The Man With a Load of Mischief,” about Richard Jury. A dozen houses rejected it before Little, Brown published it in 1981.

Readers became passionately attached to Jury; his aristocratic assistant, Melrose Plant; and Plant’s obnoxious aunt, Agatha. In 1992, when Ms. Grimes published her first novel out of the Jury series, “The End of the Pier,” her fans and editors objected. She got hate mail, she said. Her editors call the non-Jury books, which have not been best sellers, “these other books,” Ms. Grimes said. “If I hear that expression again, I’m quitting.”

Today, Ms. Grimes lives in Washington and near Santa Fe. Tall and elegant, she has never remarried. “Someone had to thrill me enough,” she said with a laugh.

“I have a reputation for being difficult,” Ms. Grimes said. But that is because she refuses suggestions from editors without questioning them, she said. “I just squawk and complain.”

Ms. Grimes has a generally dim view of the business. Her 1993 Jury mystery, “The Horse You Came In On” (Knopf), was reported to stem from a grievance she had against another mystery writer, Elizabeth George, also an American who sets books in England. Ms. Grimes said she thought Ms. George was stealing her ideas. Ms. George’s agent called Ms. Grimes’s accusations “baseless, preposterous and undignified.”

Recently, Ms. Grimes said, “The book has no relationship to Elizabeth George.”

Among Ms. Grimes’s gripes are the big advances paid to some writers. “It’s decadent,” she said. “Most authors can’t possibly earn them out.”

She says this even though she receives advances of about $1 million for every three Richard Jury books. “I’m getting a lot – too much,” she said.

In 1989 her agent sold “Send Bygraves,” a book of mystery poems, for a quarter million dollars, “an exorbitant sum,” Ms. Grimes said. “Crazy! You’re not going to earn it back.”

“I think agents do this to show their own power,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons I hate agents.”

But wait, there’s a mystery here. She’s a best-selling author. Why bite the hand that feeds her?

“My motive in writing this book was not to attack publishing,” Ms. Grimes said. “There were no characters in this book I actually disliked. I liked all of them.”

“Foul Matter” could be about Ford, or any kind of business,” she said.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

Martha Grimes: Woman of Mystery

Saturday, January 9th, 2010, August 01, 2008
By Ellen Ryan

She’s written 30 novels and sold 5 million books worldwide. But few Washingtonians recognize Martha Grimes. And that’s okay with her.

Martha Grimes was about to have her picture taken, so she walked to get her hair done at a salon near her Capitol Hill home. Grimes explained to a stylist as she was leaving, “I have an interview with USA Today.”

“As good as you look,” the stylist said, “you’ll get the job.”

Grimes loves this story. The internationally known mystery writer goes all but unrecognized around Washington—which is fine with her.

She has written 30 books, including eight New York Times bestsellers such as The Grave Maurice. Her worldwide sales are about 5 million. Yet when Grimes, who has lived 23 years on Capitol Hill, puts pen to notebook in Pennsylvania Avenue coffeeshops—she writes in longhand—no one realizes she’s the author of the popular Richard Jury novels.

The author, 77, grew up in Pittsburgh and western Maryland, where her mother was part owner of a hotel; her father died when Martha was six. She attended the University of Maryland, studied to be a poet, married and had a son, taught for 15 years at Montgomery College, divorced, and saw her first mystery turned down a dozen times before its 1981 debut.

Grimes makes almost as many appearances for animal-welfare groups as she does to sign books. “I do Q&As, not readings,” she says. “Hell, they can read the books themselves.” A vegetarian since 1975, she has woven slaughterhouses, puppy mills, and rabbit labs into plots—in her latest, Dakota, the protagonist infiltrates a pig farm—and has donated some of her royalties to animal-welfare groups.

Grimes has been remodeling a house in Bethesda; her DC place, stacked with mysteries, is now a pied à terre. She’s lived alone since an aged cat died last year, but in Bethesda she plans to have a dog. “My black cat was named Blackie,” Grimes says. “If I get a dog with a big spot, you know what I’ll name it.”

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