The Old Contemptibles by Martha Grimes: A review

The Old ContemptiblesThe Old Contemptibles by Martha Grimes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When the woman with whom Richard Jury is engaged in a passionate affair is found dead of a barbiturate overdose in her flat, it seems that Jury's famously bad luck with women has reached its nadir. Since the death is considered "suspicious," Scotland Yard investigates, and since, because of his relationship with her, Jury is considered a possible suspect, he is suspended from the force. Unable to participate himself, he deploys his friend Melrose Plant to go to the woman's family home in the Lake District and go undercover to find out what he can about their relationships.

The fabulously wealthy Plant impersonates a down-at-heels librarian who hires himself out to the family in order to catalog and organize their library. He is soon discovering all kinds of interesting things about the family.

For one thing, this family seems extraordinarily unlucky. They have suffered four suspicious deaths in a period of five or six years. One was definitely a suicide and the latest one, who is the widow of the suicide, may be also. But the other two deaths were put down as accidents. Melrose suspects something more sinister.

We have most of the usual characters that we've come to care about, but also there are a dismaying number of characters either in or somehow connected to the family and it is hard to keep them all straight. Too, it is hard to get much more than a very passing sense of who they are and what their motives might be.

As usual, we can depend on Grimes giving us charming children characters who are usually much smarter and more accomplished than the adults in their lives. In this instance, we have the teenage son of Jury's dead paramour and an eleven-year-old girl named Millie who has a black cat named Sorcerer. (Yes, we can depend on having a perspicacious animal involved as well.) Grimes clearly has a soft spot for such characters and they are always lovingly drawn.

She also gives us the curmudgeonly patriarch of the family - the one with all the money - who chooses to live in a retirement home rather than with his family, most members of whom he doesn't like much. He does like and value Alex, the paramour's son, and Millie. He has some interesting friends that we get to know at the retirement home, especially one named Lady Cray who plays an important role in the ending, where rough justice is efficiently dispensed.

I do enjoy Grimes' writing. In general, it is very crisp. Her plots flow (seemingly) effortlessly and, based on her output, she seems to have an inexhaustible supply of them.  

That being said, I thought this book was just a bit weak. Part of the problem, I think, was the plethora of characters and being unable to really home in on the most important ones. I can usually figure out whodunit from the clues scattered throughout, but I didn't get this one, and even after the denouement, I found it a bit confusing.

But I did like Millie and Sorcerer.

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  1. Martha Grimes is one of my favorite authors! I've read this one, but can't remember the details. Maybe I should read it again.
    Have a wonderful week-end!

    1. I have very much enjoyed reading this series, and, fortunately, there are still several more entries to go.


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