The Old Wine Shades by Martha Grimes: A review

The Old Wine Shades (Richard Jury, #20)The Old Wine Shades by Martha Grimes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A man walks into a pub and starts telling a story to a stranger. The stranger is Superintendent Richard Jury of New Scotland Yard and the storyteller allegedly has no idea who he is. Over the next three nights, he returns to the bar to meet with Jury and continue telling him his baffling story.

The story concerns a woman who has disappeared, along with her nine-year-old son and their dog. The man claims the woman is (was?) the wife of a friend of his, a physicist who is now in a psychiatric hospital, having suffered a breakdown because of the unexplained disappearances.

The disappearance occurred some nine months before. The woman, child, and dog had gone to Surrey to look at some property. The couple was considering moving there. They looked at one house and had tea with the residents and then went on to a second property. The woman was seen there but neither she nor her son have been seen since, seemingly having vanished into thin air.

But then the dog came back.

The Surrey police allegedly investigated but found nothing and concluded that the woman, for reasons of her own, had chosen to disappear. But friends like the storyteller, Harry Johnson, are still trying to find answers.

Is telling the story to Richard Jury part of that effort to find an answer? Or is he trying to involve him in some greater mystery? But Harry doesn't know that Jury is a policeman. Or does he? Jury's picture has recently been all over the news after he broke up a pedophile ring. Has Harry been stalking him and did he seek him out because of his notoriety?

Jury didn't follow the rules in breaking into the house where the child sex slaves were being held and so, even though he's not exactly suspended, (That would be a PR nightmare since the public considers him a hero.) he's not really being allowed to work either. So he has time on his hands. Time to explore this mystery that has been presented to him.

This is the twentieth book in Martha Grimes' long Richard Jury series. There are only three more (so far) left, and as we near the end, her mysteries are getting more complicated and ambiguous. The quirky little village of Long Piddleton and its annoying residents play less and less of a role in them.

We still have Melrose Plant of Long Piddleton, of course. He's Jury's good friend, a fabulously rich dilettante who enjoys playing roles and being sent undercover by Jury to help him solve his cases. In this one, he plays the long-dead physicist Niels Bohr!

The mystery here hinges on theories in physics. We get discussions of string theory, quantum mechanics, the uncertainty principle, and Schrodinger's Cat - that famous cat that can be either alive or dead until you open the box. Is the woman in this case alive or dead? Will Jury be able to open the box?

Although this was a different kind of mystery for Grimes, some things are always true. Her penchant for weird pub names in her titles, for example. The Old Wine Shades is the name of the pub where Jury and Harry meet. Another point we can absolutely depend on is that there will be at least one precocious, oddball child and a lovable cat or dog that is usually more intelligent and noble than many of the humans in the story. In this case, it is the dog named Mungo - the one who came back - and he is the real hero of the piece.

Some of the reviews that I've read of this book found it a bit too precious with some of the viewpoints presented through the eyes of the dog and just too irritating with all of physics theories floating around and the fact that there is no satisfying denouement at the end. (Spoiler alert!) Jury knows what happened but he can't prove it and the culprit walks free.

Trust Grimes though. Even though the bad guy isn't nabbed, she gets the children out of danger before the epilogue.

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  1. What are you going to do once you get to the end? One less series to read...
    This one I think would interest me because of the physics theories.

    1. I found it interesting, but I understand why some regular fans of the series didn't particularly like it. It is quite different from the earlier "cozy" books. Grimes makes an effort to not get into a rut with her writing and I think she mostly succeeds.

  2. Good review, happy St Patrick's Day

  3. I couldn't keep up with you yesterday with all your posts! A blogging demon you were. But this one sounds great! I will get to Ms Grimes one day.

    1. Like most long series, there are some hits and some misses, but, overall, the series is a hit, and Grimes really does seem to be making an effort to keep the series fresh and varied.


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