By Julia Keller / Cultural Critic
February 11, 2011

If she weren’t writing mysteries, Martha Grimes says, she might be running a tea shop.

You were expecting perhaps an auto-parts store?

No, you weren’t. Not if you know Grimes’ work, which includes 22 mysteries featuring the incisive Scotland Yard detective Richard Jury, whose exploits are captured in books that have sold more than 5 million copies around the world. A tea shop matches up with the thoroughly British Jury as well as a cinnamon scone does with a cup of Earl Grey.

“Although,” Grimes adds during a recent phone interview from her Washington, D.C., home, “I’m sure there’s a great deal more to running a tea shop than I know about.”

Contemplating change doesn’t faze Grimes, who is scheduled to visit Chicago next week to talk about her new book, “Fadeaway Girl” (Viking). While she continues to write the Jury series – distinguished by the fact that the titles come from the names of British pubs such as “The Dirty Duck” (1984) and “The Old Silent” (1989) — “Fadeaway Girl” is the fourth book in another series featuring a feisty young woman named Emma Graham, who solves mysteries in a large hotel just after World War II.

“I don’t think I could have just kept writing the Richard Jury books. It wasn’t that I was bored or dissatisfied. I just had to write something else,” Grimes says. “I like Emma. She was initially supposed to be the protagonist of one book. But I liked her so much I couldn’t stop.

“Emma is not consciously based on me – but I do like her attitude. She’s unsentimental.”

Grimes, who still writes in longhand, says ideas come to her in all forms. “I’ll see something, or hear something. Sometimes, it can be a color. Or a piece of music. Or an image of some kind. I see something, and it has huge emotional weight, although I have no idea why.

“I love stories. I just enjoy telling stories and watching what these characters do – although writing continues to be just as hard as it always was.”

On Thursday, Grimes will appear at a private event at noon at the Union League Club, 65 W. Jackson Blvd., and at a free public event at 7 p.m. at the Book Stall at Chestnut Court, 811 Elm St., in Winnetka.

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