The 18th novel in Martha Grimes’s popular Richard Jury series finds the author extending her range, echoing the work of two other masters of mystery – osephine Tey and Dick Francis – while skewering British society with a droll, rapier wit.
The fun starts with Jury lying in a hospital bed, recuperating from the bullet wound he received at the end of The Blue Last. In a scene reminiscent of Tey’s classic hospital bed mystery, The Daughter of Time, a bored, frustrated Jury is overjoyed when his assistant, Melrose Plant, arrives with a proffered mystery. While in the local pub, called the Grave Maurice, Plant overhears a conversation concerning the disappearance of teenager Nell Ryder, the daughter of Jury’s surgeon. Nell vanished two years earlier from the family horse farm, but there are rumors she’s been seen riding at midnight on her favorite mare. On Jury’s orders, Plant enters the occasionally bizarre world of horse racing. There he meets Nell’s cousin, Maurice, a grave lad plagued by an adolescent growth spurt that’s left him too tall to be a jockey, his only dream since he was a boy. The eccentric suspects start piling up, as do the murders, as Jury is eventually released from the hospital and enters the fray. Grimes, perhaps overcompensating for entering the equestrian universe dominated by Dick Francis, spends a bit too much time giving us the minute details of horse breeding. However, the offbeat characters – especially a demanding nurse who infuriates Jury – are so likable they soon smooth over any bumps in the narrative road. The Grave Maurice is a strange and unique amalgam of satire and mystery that works on most levels, thanks to the author’s sure and talented hand. Tom Piccirilli