Review

The Lamorna Wink

by Martha Grimes

Very
early in THE LAMORNA WINK, one of the characters, an amateur
magician, says "Magic was kind of like murder or a murder mystery:
distract, dissuade --- that was the way. Put a clue here and at the
same time call attention to something quite different over there."
This is a good description of all good mysteries and of this one in
particular.  

Although this is billed as a Richard Jury mystery, the Scotland
Yard detective is laboring in North Ireland during most of this
story and it falls to his friend Melrose Plant to assess clues and
assist the police. In fact, in many ways this is Plant's story ---
Plant the aristocrat who refuses to use his title, the easygoing
amateur who routinely gets involved in murders. Plant has decided
to rent some property in Cornwall, in part to get away from his
Aunt Agatha for a while. Agatha, however, by some mysterious radar,
follows him and continues to make his life miserable. He rents
Seabourne, a house filled with the personal belongings of a family
who once lived there, down to the framed photographs on the end
table and mantle. The real estate agent says she believes that
their two children drowned at the foot of stone stairs going down
to the ocean.  

Meanwhile Plant meets Johnny Wells, an amateur magician and
part-time student who lives with his Aunt Chris --- who has
disappeared.

If these two mysteries are not enough, a body is discovered near
the local pub, the Lamorna Wink. Division Commander Brian Macalvie,
with whom Jury has worked in the past, is assigned to the case and
is ably assisted by Jury's Sergeant Wiggins, a hypochondriac of the
first order. There will be more dead bodies before the mystery is
solved.

Grimes does many things very well, but what she perhaps excels at
is development of character. The regular characters, Plant and
Jury, and the tangential ones who revolve about them, are a
collection of bizarre and eccentric people who, nevertheless, seem
believable. The non-series characters are nicely developed and take
on a life of their own quite early in the story. Grimes has a nice
touch when describing people. For example, Aunt Agatha sees herself
as the center of every gathering and pays no attention to how
others might take what she says. When she cannot understand why
Plant is laughing at her, he tells her "You could say you've been
to Bletchley, but you've never been to you."

Grimes has a whimsical sense of humor which sometimes goes over the
top, such as with the implausible actions revolving around Vivian's
wedding. But most of the time the reader can appreciate Grimes'
humor without feeling clobbered over the head with it. She uses
place very nicely to convey atmosphere. The tearoom, of which Chris
is co-owner, is warm and pleasant and produces a cozy, homey
feeling. The nasty house where a pornographer lived is cold and
barren. Seabourne is crowded with memories and makes Plant think
back to his own childhood and remember a father who was cold and
distant from him. His mother, on the other hand, had a lover who
also repelled him. Perhaps these are the reasons he is so eager to
abandon his title.

One could say that the theme of this book is the death of the
young, the two children drowned in the ocean, and the death of
youth, as Johnny's world comes crashing down about him and Plant
tries and fails to find his youth again. Conversely, the
grandfather of the two children, the Chicken King (a string of fast
food restaurants), has purchased a manor house and created
Bletchley Hall, a hospice and a nursing home for the elderly.

The mystery, while subtle, is also complex and sinuous. The reader
is not exactly sure whether all of these events relate to one
another or not. This is one of the hallmarks of a Grimes book, to
interweave seemingly unrelated events in such a way as to perplex,
to baffle and then provide the reader with an elegant solution.
It's that old sleight of hand that Johnny talked about on the first
page. Grimes gets the reader to look fixedly in one direction while
she is cleverly doing things with her other hand that will
ultimately show us the solution

If there is a weakness in this book, however, it is in the
denouement. It relies a great deal on coincidence and the method of
the first murders is uncertain enough to be improbable. And some
information is provided woefully late for the reader to deduce the
solution. But Jury wraps everything up very nicely and the reader
certainly closes the book with a satisfied feeling.

Reviewed by Sally Fellows on January 22, 2011

The Lamorna Wink
by Martha Grimes

  • Publication Date: October 1, 1999
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult
  • ISBN-10: 0670888702
  • ISBN-13: 9780670888702