by Charles L.P. Silet
Ever since the publication of The Man with the Load of Mischief in 1981, Martha Grimes has been enthralling mystery readers with her British-based Melrose Plant/Richard Jury crime series. With Five Bells & Bladebone (1987), the ninth book in the series, she broke into the New York Times bestseller list, and her next two, The Old Silent and The Old Contemptibles, also were on the bestseller lists both in hardcover and paperback.
In 1992, with The End of the Pier, Martha Grimes published her first contemporary novel outside the series. She followed it up with Hotel Paradise in 1996. Last spring she released Biting the Moon, a novel with two teenage heroines, which focused on her long-standing interest in animal rights, and she donated a portion of the royalties to animal abuse organizations across the country.
The Lamorna Wink is her latest in the Plant/Jury series and departs from the rest by focusing on Melrose Plant rather than Richard Jury as the primary protagonist.
MysteryNet: Tell me about The Lamorna Wink.
Grimes: The thing that is different about this book is almost all of it deals with Melrose Plant, and Richard Jury comes in only around the last third of the book. The books up until now have been equally divided or at least Richard Jury is in most of each book. The reason I largely excluded Jury is because in the series there is a lot about Melrose Plant which has raised questions, such as why he gave up his title and other things about his past. In The Lamorna Wink I wanted to answer some of those questions. Also, a lot of my readers are really Melrose Plant addicts so I thought I’d give him a book of his own. There’s another technical reason for excluding Jury. The Devon and Cornwall superintendent Brian Macalvie is in much of The Lamorna Wink along with Plant, and it is rather difficult to have three detectives working on a crime. I have had three in the past, with Macalvie, but it can become a little clumsy. So since Macalvie was going to be in this book, I thought it might be a good idea to remove Richard Jury at least for a large part of it. Actually, I was going to leave him out altogether, but finally I didn’t think that was a good idea.
MysteryNet: Why did you bring him in?
Grimes: Because these books are about Richard Jury and Melrose Plant, and if he didn’t come in at all, there are some people who really like Jury who’d be disappointed. And of course I like him.
MysteryNet: The Lamorna Wink has ghostly elements in it, and you mention the movie The Uninvited and Henry James’s “Turn of the Screw” several times. Were these in your mind when you wrote the book?
Grimes: Certainly the movie was with its over-the-top melodrama of the ghost story. Since Melrose Plant is a very romantic person, such an atmosphere gave him an opportunity to think about hauntings and mysterious women, that sort of thing. As far as the “Turn of the Screw” is concerned, that didn’t occur to me until I saw the possibility for Karen Bletchley to have made up the story about her dead children.
MysteryNet: You set this in Cornwall and Devon which brings to mind Daphne du Maurier and that whole romantic mystery tradition as well.
Grimes: Yes, but there’s a big difference between Daphne du Maurier on the one hand and on the other this movie which is clearly in an excessively romantic/gothic tradition. I didn’t intend the novel as a send-up of the Daphne du Maurier sort of fiction, and I don’t really know if I intended it as a send-up of The Uninvited now as I think about it, because I am absolutely crazy about the music from the film which Daniel Bletchley plays. The romance, the passion, and so forth which Bletchley’s music exhibits knocks Melrose out.
MysteryNet: I loved the character of Morris Bletchley, who is the American billionaire founder of the fast-food chain Chick’nKing. Why is he in the book?
Grimes: That’s a hard question to answer. If you ask me why any of the characters are in the book, I guess I have to go all the way back to when I started writing it. All of the characters are there because I like them for one reason or another.
MysteryNet: He sets up a hospice in an old country house which gives you room to pursue the pervasive theme of death which this book seems to particularly explore.
Grimes: That’s true. His grandchildren having died at Seabourne, he wants to get away from the house, but he can’t stand to get too far away, because he feels he’s abandoning the children. He sets the hospice up as a way of dealing with death in general and a way of helping people who are dying. Also it gives me an opportunity to write about old people. For some reason I really like to deal with them. When Morris Bletchley set up that hospice, it provided a setting for a few oldsters, and, of course, although obviously this wouldn’t have been in my mind right from the outset, it was wonderful for Sergeant Wiggins, who likes nothing better than a hospital. There he is in seventh heaven.
MysteryNet: Tell me what attracts you to Brian Macalvie.
Grimes: What I like about him is that he is completely dedicated, and he is completely honest. I enjoy watching him best the experts. I like the way Brian Macalvie upsets his forensic people by standing around and looking. He can stand around and look forever. I doubt very much if there is another policeman who will do that. In The Lamorna Wink since I didn’t have Richard Jury to deal with, I could also go into Brian Macalvie’s character a little more. And this case for the reasons he gives us from his past really sends Brian Macalvie for a loop. I also like the way Macalvie deals with people. It’s quite different from Jury. Jury is so gentle, and Macalvie isn’t except on one or two occasions. For example, I liked the way he dealt with Morris Bletchley at the end when he does not tell him what had really happened to his grandchildren. That reveals another side of Macalvie, one we’re not used to seeing.
MysteryNet: You’ve written over a dozen of the Jury/Plant books now. What are the advantages and disadvantages of doing a long-running series?
Grimes: That’s a good question. I really can’t think of any disadvantages except one. If you write a mystery series it is almost impossible to have another kind of book accepted by the critics, the readers, and the editors. They don’t want you to write anything else. It is also almost impossible to get your publisher not to promote any book you write as a mystery. It’s really quite unbelievable. When I wrote The End of the Pier, which was the first non-Jury book and was never intended to be a mystery, one reviewer said that my publisher should have told me, “If it’s not broke, don’t try to fix it.” I have told you the only disadvantage. The advantage is that I can keep on writing about the same people in book after book, and I really like them. One of the things the reviewers have said about the “non-Jury books” is, “I guess you get tired of writing about these same people over and over again.” What do you mean I get tired of them? I don’t get tired of them; if I got tired of them, I’d just stop.
An Annotated Martha Grimes Reading List
- The Man with a Load of Mischief (1981)
- The Old Fox Deceived (1982)
- The Anodyne Necklace (1983)
- The Dirty Duck (1984)
- Jerusalem Inn (1984)
- Help the Poor Struggler (1985)
- The Deer Leap (1985)
- I Am the Only Running Footman (1986) OUT OF PRINT
- The Five Bells and Bladebone (1987)
- The Old SIlent (1989)
- The Old Contemptibles (1990)
- The Horse You Came in On (1993)
- Rainbow's End (1995)
- The Case Has Altered (1997)
- The Stargazey (1998)
- The Lamorna Wink (1999)
Buy Martha Grimes Mystery Books at MysteryBookstore.com
Charles L.P. Silet teaches courses in film and contemporary literature at Iowa State University and writes extensively on the mystery field. He recently authored Talking Murder: Interviews with 20 Mystery Writers.