Interview: October 5, 2001
October 5, 2001
Martha Grimes crafts her storylines with strong characters and vivid surroundings that envelope the reader and make them a participant. Equal parts of humor and compassion underly her prose, giving it a strong voice that is reflective of the author herself. Although some have characterized her as shy, Bookreporter.com's Ann Bruns has never found that to be a stumbling block, as readers will see in this latest interview about her most recent Richard Jury novel, THE BLUE LAST.
TBR: THE BLUE LAST has an interesting twist from your previous Richard Jury novels --- the pub of the title serves as the initial crime scene, but is nothing more than a pile of rubble, having been bombed in World War II. Was there an actual Blue Last pub that you used as the basis for the story?
MG: The history of the pub is exactly as given in the book. What inspired me to write it is the fact that this did actually happen. The Blue Last was demolished by fire-bombing on December 29, 1940. The only liberty I took with this history was that the discovery of the development of the site and the discovery of the skeletons (and this, too, really did happen) occurred a few years later than in the book, the time of which is not 2001, but the mid-nineties --- 94, 95.
TBR: Inspector Jury is asked by an old friend on the force to determine the identity of a baby found at the scene years ago. Given the current technology available, why wouldn't Jury have suggested a DNA test to determine which baby was killed in the bombing?
MG: DNA testing wouldn't work here. If DNA could be extracted from the bones, it could still not positively id them, since there would be nothing to compare the DNA with. The father is out; the grandfather is out (Jury wouldn't ask him); Kitty and Maisie are obviously out because they wouldn't go along with DNA testing --- knowing what the result would be.
Another interesting way of looking at the identification is that the bones found are merely suggestive, i.e., one couldn't say what the adult woman's bones are actually...
And then of course there's the possibility that the bones might not belong to the Tynedale mom and daughter and Mickey is mistaken. Or he might be lying to Jury... (I think I'll write this book again...)
TBR: In THE BLUE LAST storyline, Jury is in quite a funk, brooding on his childhood memories of the war years. Is his personal history, his fragmented memories of an orphaned life, in any way an explanation for his continued bachelorhood?
MG: Jury's bachelor status seems far more the result of bad luck than lack of desire. The women either die or are using him or are just not the right woman for him (e.g. Jenny Kennington).
TBR: THE BLUE LAST is teeming with characters who have been orphaned for one reason or another. There's a definite echo of the same heart-wrenching sadness that consumed Emma Graham of HOTEL PARADISE and COLD FLAT JUNCTION and the woman of THE TRAIN NOW DEPARTING. Are you conscience of this recurring theme of loneliness when you are in the process of fleshing out your characters?
MG: The recurring theme of loneliness? Of course I'm conscious of it. It's quite deliberate. In the Jury series another reason for the kids' being along (sans parents or meaningful relations) is that I want to show their resourcefulness in saving themselves. It isn't Plant or Jury who save them; they always turn up a shade too late. (The dog Arnold saves Bertie; Emily Louise Park saves herself by riding her horse; Abby gets the dogs to start a sheep-avalanche; etc.)
TBR: How did you go about researching details about the British Code and Cypher intelligence branch that operated during World War II? Were you able to talk with survivors from that era? Access MI files or other such resources?
MG: Books. I don't know any survivors; I don't know anyone in the Secret Service. Just a lot of books and newspapers.
TBR: Inspector Jury interviews Sir Oswald, who was a former member of the Code and Cypher group, in order to piece together a history of Ralph Herrick, the father of the presumed heir to the Tynedale estate. Is Sir Oswald's resigned attitude toward "the game" of spies and counterspies a realistic portrayal of how many former intelligence agents view their occupation?
MG: Again, I don't know any agents, but I certainly think the attitude of some would be Sir Oswald's.
TBR: THE BLUE LAST draws a great deal of background from the destructive bombing of England during World War II. Are there still a good many locations that remain dangerous to excavate or restore?
MG: In London, none. The Blue Last was the last bomb site.
TBR: The parallel story involving Marshall Trueblood's quest to identify the Italian Renaissance painting was not only humorous, but enlightening. Are there many valuable works of art thought to be floating around --- unrecognized, or without proper provenance? Is it that difficult for experts to identify these pieces with absolute certainty?
MG: There probably are some, and undoubtedly in private collections. I doubt it's this difficult to recognize them, though.
TBR: The residents of Long Piddleton are such delightfully quirky characters --- Marshall Trueblood, Diane Demorney, and, of course, the charming Melrose Plant who has played such a key role in many of Inspector Jury's investigations. All of these people have a somewhat solitary existence, yet, for the most part, they seem content and self-fulfilled. Do they reflect a not-so-subtle statement of your own personal convictions concerning career, relationships and life in general?
MG: Yes. Clearly, a writer has to be able to tolerate long periods of being alone. However, considering all of the people floating around in my mind, I sometimes wonder if I'm ever alone. But it astonishes me that many people can't tolerate being alone, in other words, can't tolerate themselves.
TBR: Melrose Plant undergoes some changes in his usual conservative demeanor: more impulsive in his behavior and strikingly experimental with his appearance. Frankly, my mental picture of him altered during the reading of THE BLUE LAST; he seemed younger, livelier and more assertive. Were you just having a little fun with his character, or is this a "new" Melrose?
MG: As far as I'm concerned, this is the same old Melrose. But perhaps his being for a long period of time with Trueblood brings out certain qualities. If Melrose showed changes in his character, I would say it's in THE LAMORNA WINK.
TBR: Young Gemma became the ward of Oliver Tynedale when they "accidentally" crossed paths after the death of his daughter. While some tantalizing possibilities are presented suggesting that this might not be an accident, it really remains an enigma. Do you always like to leave readers with a little something to chew on?
MG: The origins of Gemma are more of a red herring than anything else. One is taken up by wondering where she came from and, as in the case of red herrings, doesn't concentrate on the mystery. The most glorious red herring in the book, though, is Ralph Herrick and that book Simon was writing.
TBR: Gemma and Benny, who is also an orphan with strong survival skills, are both such marvelous characters --- bright, clever, and remarkably perceptive about human nature. In fact, the children of your novels are always so engaging, it begs the question: why haven't you ever written stories for children?
MG: Well, writing about children and writing for them are two different things.
TBR: In our last interview, you assured us we would be seeing more of the Spirit Lake community of characters (my personal favorites) and your website states there will be more novels like BITING THE MOON focusing on preserving wildlife and the environment. Can you tell us what your next project will be?
MG: No, I can't. I'm writing a Jury book at the moment, but I could easily start writing another book about Spirit Lake and Emma. Sometimes I write two books at the same time.
NOTE TO READERS: The last few questions may reveal more than you would like to know prior to reading THE BLUE LAST. You may wish to stop here, and return to them at a later date.
TBR: I have to ask the obvious question: Since you've often said you don't always know where the story will go until you write it, was that the case with THE BLUE LAST? Or had you determined it was time to put Richard Jury to rest? Since it's not outside the realm of possibility that Jury could recover if you chose to let him, could the inevitable fan mail that will result from this influence you at all?
MG: Why are you so sure Richard Jury dies at the end of this book? The "villain" is an exceptionally good shot. Would he have to fire three times? No, I'd say, with Melrose, Benny and Sparky all headed in his direction, there's a good chance Jury doesn't die. As for my fans influencing me to do one this way or another, no.
TBR: Will we ever see any of the other Richard Jury characters appearing in another novel? Will any of them pop up in the United States for a cameo? Is there anything you would like to say to readers, particularly with regard to the close of the series?
MG: I guess these are answered above. It's interesting that you think everything would shut down if R. J. died. There's still Melrose Plant, remember. And a lot of readers like him more than Richard Jury.
Thank you for taking time for some questions. Your fans always love to hear from you.
--- Ann Bruns