"I'm sitting here where you left me hardly more than a week ago. Every day and nearly every night I've been here on the low stone wall by the spring. I sit near the little alcove where spring water runs from a pipe jutting out of the stone. There's a metal cup dented from years of use that sits beneath the pipe and catches the water so that people can drink it. The cup has been around as long as I have."
And with a brief chapter as a way of reintroducing herself, 12-year-old Emma Graham reenters our lives. It's actually been far more than a week since Emma first appeared between the pages of HOTEL PARADISE. It's been roughly 5 years. We didn't really know that we'd see her again, but this unexpected reunion in COLD FLAT JUNCTION is a delightful surprise. Emma is the kind of character you carry away with you long after the final page of the final chapter. She's someone you get to know and hate to leave. But Emma is just one of the marvelous characters that lives within the fictional world of Martha Grimes's COLD FLAT JUNCTION. There's Sam the Sheriff, Maud Chadwick, Ree-Jane, Aurora, Ulub and Ubub, and more. For those who've already met them, welcome back. For those who haven't, it's time you did.
As Emma will tell you, her story began in HOTEL PARADISE, which is the name of the rather run-down but quaint Spirit Lake resort operated by her mother. When Emma was not helping serve meals, she would wander back and forth between Spirit Lake and the adjacent towns of La Porte and Cold Flat Junction. Sociable, precocious and intensely curious about everything, she was irresistibly drawn to a local tragedy that occurred over 40 years ago. Another 12-year-old, Mary-Evelyn Devereau, drowned in Spirit Lake. When Emma spotted a figure near the lake resembling an older Mary-Evelyn, she was intrigued enough to dig into the Devereau family history. What she learned through casual conversation is tantalizing, and Emma made it her mission to uncover the truth about a tragedy that had been nearly forgotten.
Of course, the rumors are lively in these little backwater towns and are compounded by even more recent tragedies. Rose Devereau, one of the four sisters that lived in the spooky old house by the lake, was viciously stabbed to death, presumably by her husband. And Fern Queen, Rose's daughter, was recently murdered by a person or persons unknown. Emma uses all manner of ruses to wheedle information from the people she encounters in her quest to resurrect the investigations. From the friendly atmosphere of the Rainbow Cafe to the dark, dangerous forest surrounding the lake to the lunch counter adjacent to the forlorn Cold Flat Junction, she spins imaginative lies to gain confidences and piece together the puzzle.
But a Martha Grimes novel is never just a tale of suspense. Grimes is, above all, an artist extraordinaire when it comes to breathing life into characters and baring their souls. COLD FLAT JUNCTION is also an emotional journey into the heart and mind of a lonely adolescent. Underneath the guile, the mischief, and the cocky cloak of self-assurance hides a little girl struggling to find an identity and understand all the bigger issues of life. Her often heartbreaking attempts to fashion a fantasy world as a refuge from her troubles rings with inescapable familiarity. Among the clutter of girlish possessions in her secret hideaway is Emma's journal containing her list of "Sorrowful Places."
"It sounds like a strange thing to do, ranking places I'd miss. The way I know when I come upon such a place is that I'm gripped by this awful sadness. And it makes me think this sadness is always right there below the surface, and the surface is easily scratched."
Interweaving humor and pathos, Martha Grimes delves far below the surface to the center of what makes us irrevocably human and creates characters that we come to know and to love. And as with all of her magical novels, COLD FLAT JUNCTION is more than just something to read --- it's something to experience.
Reviewed by Ann Bruns on February 8, 2001