Monday, May 16, 2011


Wry humor is what made Martha Grimes' The Man with a Load of Mischief a good book for me.

Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Richard Jury and his friend Melrose Plant investigate what seem to be a series of murders tied to local pubs in and around Long Piddleton.

Along the way, Jury meets a wide array of characters the most interesting of which is Lady Agnes, a displaced American who claims her title through marriage. 

Agnes complicates matters by investigating the murders, by criticizing Jury to Jury's incompetent superiors, and by manipulating everyone but Jury. 

Jury learns the unique meaning of the names of many local pubs.  He also comes to learn that the staging of the murders is itself a clue.

For me, the story seemed typical, one of those stories you don't want to think too much about or it won't hold up.  But the people were a hoot.

I have no way of knowing whether this is the case, but just to read it, I'd expect this book and others like it are at the root of the Canadian book that brought me back to novels like this--Louise Penny's Bury Your Dead.  I saw so many similarities in the two books:  their wonderful characters, their unique settings, the overall character of the stories themselves.

Good stories have character, special qualities that make them unlike other stories you've read. In Bury Your Dead I will always remember the old poet (I think her name was Ruth) and her dressed-up duck.  I'd never read about anyone like that before.

To a lesser extent, that's the way it was with Agnes and some other characters in The Man with a Load of Mischief.

I'm late to the game.  Those who like traditional British Scotland Yard stories have probably long-ago read this book, but if, for some reason, you missed it, you might want to try it now.


Naomi Johnson said...

I loved all of those early books in the Richard Jury series. Yeah, the plots weren't always gems, but like you, I thought the characters were a hoot. I developed some issues with later books in the series, but enjoyed the first ten or so immensely.

Joe Barone said...

Good to know. I've not read any of these before. I think I came on this one because I read about it on a blog of forgotten books. I will try to read some more of the first ten.

Anonymous said...

Your review makes me want to look up those early books and reread them. Thanks for a great nudge!

Joe Barone said...

This book would be worth reading again.

Richard R. said...

for me the early (1-4) books were best, after that I got pretty tired of Plant, Aunt, the rest. Amusing characters can become tiresome pretty quickly.

Joe Barone said...

If the characters don't change along the way, they do become tiresome. Since this was the first of these I'd read, the characters were all new to me.

Naomi Johnson said...

I might have tired of the characters except that along the way, beginning with The Anodyne Necklace, the author introduced a family of lowlifes who would appear in future books, from time to time.

No, my problems began when the author began to beat me over the head with precocious children, abused animals, and in the last book I read before surrendering, a dog that understood the children were being held prisoner and decided -- decided, was not persuaded -- to untie the children and help them escape out a window.

John said...

i agree with Rick. I devoured these one right after the other back in the 80s when they were first published, but somewhere aaround Help the Poor Struggler or maybe it was Jerusalem Inn I had my fill. She was very formualiac. You'd keep waiting for the deep dark secret from the past to be hinted at, and then the digging starts, and then the hidden motive is revealed and... They were all like that. I'd be interested in checking out her latest series with a Nancy Drew style detective - a pre-teen who works as a maid in her mother's hotel during the WW2 era to see if she applied her Jury/Plant formula to those books.

Yvette said...

I am a BIG fan of Martha Grimes. LOVE the Richard Jury books. Some more than others, but on the whole, I love 'em more than I don't.

I'm still reading them, still with the series.

Thanks for featuring this. :)

Joe Barone said...

Naomi, I too dislike stories in which animals are given powers they don't have in life. I think animals are amazing enough as they are without having them think like humans, talk, or knock over vases to give their stupid human owners clues.

John, I may look up the Nancy Drew-like books and read one just out of curiosity. Thanks.

Yvette, Good to have a different opinion. I suspect I will read some more of the Jury books.

As I look over the range of these comments, I think about how hard it is to write a series and maintain the integrity of the individual books. That may be even more true if the books contain humor.