The New York Times, November 1, 2019 by Marilyn Stasio
Martha Grimes’s novels are a hybrid of mystery forms, all of them hugely entertaining. THE OLD SUCCESS (Atlantic Monthly, $26) is a perfect example. The plot starts off as a classic whodunit involving a local investigation of the mysterious death of Manon Vinet, a beautiful Frenchwoman whose body is found battered on the rocks of Hell Bay on one of the smallest of the Isles of Scilly, just off the Cornish coast.
Meanwhile, at a Northamptonshire estate owned by Lady Eleanor Summerston, there’s been another death, of a man little mourned because he was “a rotter.” But the police insist, as police do, on arresting someone for the murder, so Lady Summerston’s niece, Flora Flood, finds herself in custody. “My husband was shot,” she reasons. “I had a gun. There appeared to be no one else in the room. If that’s true, I shot him.” Sounds like a slam-dunk, but Flora claims innocence.
Then there’s a third murder — inexplicably, of one of the “holy dusters” who clean Exeter Cathedral. Could these cases all be connected? That’s the question troubling Richard Jury, Grimes’s charming Scotland Yard detective, who enlists the aid of his friend Melrose Plant and Melrose’s eccentric pub mates at the Jack and Hammer. Also in on the action is another Jury pal, Tom Brownell, a former C.I.D. operative.
If you’re happy to be sidetracked from all this, there are many wonderful lagniappes to enjoy, including Melrose’s menagerie: a goat named Aghast, a dog named Aggro and a horse named Aggrieved, who gives the lie to his name by running a brilliant if unconventional race.
Grimes has a way with children as well as animals, and here she finds a role for a “stubborn, self-centered, arrogant and demanding” youngster named Gerrard Gerrard. When asked why his mother didn’t give him his own name, he replies: “Too lazy, I expect. We’re a lazy lot.” Lazy he is not, and he proves it by executing a ruse that leaves Melrose’s grasping Aunt Agatha speechless. Gerrard Gerrard is great fun; but if you’re looking for headier thrills, wait until you meet the little girls who found that body on the beach.