Tue 27 Dec 2011
MARTHA GRIMES – The Old Contemptibles. Little Brown, hardcover, 1991. Paperback reprints include: Ballantine, 1992; Onyx, 2006.
Superintendent Richard Jury is at an antiques flea market when he meets Jane Holdsworth, a widow with a sixteen-year-old son. They begin an affair so intense that Jury is about to propose marriage when she suddenly dies of a barbiturate overdose.
Though it looks like suicide, there’s enough wrong with the circumstances surrounding her death for Jury to be suspended while the death is under investigation.
This brings Jury’s friend Melrose Plant onto the scene, where he gets a job with the dead woman’s estranged in-laws to find out what he can. What he discovers is that not only did Jane’s late husband also commit suicide, but also both his mother and the family Cook were killed in supposedly accidental falls.
Grimes excels here in the creation of characters, and she gives herself plenty of range in which to strut her stuff: besides the usual characters, there are two children, the dead cook, and a couple of senior citizens, one of them a kleptomaniac. With a cast like that, how can it miss?