A beautiful young woman’s expensively dressed body is
discovered outside a pub in a London suburb. Dressed in Jimmy Choo
stilettos and an Yves St Laurent gown, the dramatic circumstances
surrounding her demise already has the press buzzing. Sensing a
media frenzy in the making, Scotland Yard sends Superintendent
Richard Jury to sort things out. Jury is grieving over Lu
Aguilar, who lies in a coma in a London hospital after a tragic
accident, so he almost welcomes the diversion and goes to Chesham
When Jury arrives at the Black Cat Pub where the shooting took
place, he spots a snoozing black cat, seemingly occupying its
rightful place on the table next to where the body was found. Upon
his return the next day, the cat is gone and a small girl is
searching the area. When she hears he is from Scotland Yard, she
tells him that her cat, Morris, has been kidnapped, and she demands
that he use Scotland Yard to find her pet.
Two more unidentified, expensively dressed young women are found
murdered two days later in London. When news breaks that all three
were high-priced call girls, each wearing designer shoes and gowns
and had been shot at close range by a small caliber weapon, the
press has a field day with speculation over a potential serial
killer. Jury, however, puzzles that the facts don’t add up,
and with the waters muddied, he enlists his friend, Melrose Plant,
to help unravel the mystery.
Richard Jury fans may recall sociopath Harry Johnson, whom Jury
met in THE OLD WINE SHADES. Harry cast a metaphysical spin to the
unresolved disappearance of a woman, her son and her dog. The dog,
Mungo, comes back while the mother and son remain missing, and
Johnson takes the pooch in. When the black cat disappears and then
reappears, and Jury realizes that the two London murders take place
within blocks of Johnson's flat, he becomes even more suspicious
and sets about trying to link Johnson to the crimes. Johnson,
a gamesman and con artist of the highest order, is only too
delighted to draw Jury into this scenario, and so a game of
genuine cat and mouse (or perhaps cat and dog) ensues.
Martha Grimes has been weaning her fans away from the cozy
little scenes in Long Piddleton with Jury’s tedious Aunt
Agatha and the eccentric folk of the village who move between
their favorite watering hole and the library, sipping tea or
copious amounts of alcohol at all hours of the day and night.
They make brief appearances in this novel, as well
as Jury's beautiful air-headed upstairs neighbor,
Carol-anne, who serves as his message taker and occasional date.
Melrose Plant takes a stab at undercover investigator as he steps
in to pry information from a call girl who knew one of the
victims by inviting her to dinner at Boring’s, his
ultra-snooty London Men’s Club. The scene with his fellow
members and the unflappable head waiter’s reaction to the
lady of the evening are almost worth the price of the book.
Mungo, as always puzzled by Jury’s inability to recognize
the obvious, carries on several silent dialogues with Morris, who
indeed has been kidnapped by the devious Johnson. When the two
conspire to communicate with Jury to point out the weakness in his
investigation, Grimes is at her best as she gets into the heads of
these two critters.
THE BLACK CAT is the 22nd installment in this wildly successful
series, and the introduction of new characters and timely events is
welcomed by some fans and perhaps befuddling to others. Grimes
continues to spin these entertaining English mysteries (although
she is an American) and mingles the old-school cozy with some
surprising twists of modernity.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on January 11, 2011