The Old Wine Shades: A Richard Jury Mystery
It's been two years since Martha Grimes has treated her readers to a Richard Jury mystery, but the wait is well worth it. Scotland Yard Superintendent Jury has been temporarily suspended from duty over his failure to secure a search warrant in his last case (in THE WINDS OF CHANGE), so he is cooling his heels and wetting his whistle at various London pubs while awaiting a decision on his future. He is sitting at the bar of an established wine connoisseur's pub when, in classic style, "This man walks into a bar with his dog..."
The man, Harry Johnson, sits down next to Jury and starts spinning a tale of how the mutt, Mungo --- who was abducted along with his mistress and her autistic son nine months earlier while looking at houses in the English countryside --- suddenly came back. The dog's master, Hugh Gault, husband and father to the missing persons, has committed himself to a sanitarium over grief in the loss. Johnson and Gault, physicists and colleagues, are exploring quantum physics and superstring theory. There still is no sign of the woman or the boy, which leads Johnson to expound on theories of what happened to them, and why and how the dog come back. Are they lost in some space/time continuum? Are they alive or dead? As Johnson spins out his tale in Scheherazade fashion over several lunches and dinners, Jury is drawn in by the tale. Having nothing else to do, he begins to follow leads, fantastic and unlikely as they seem.
All of our favorite Richard Jury characters are in place in their own milieu, from the Boring Men's club to the local pubs, and serve as sounding boards and prognosticators to the mystery. The irascible Lord Ardry travels to Florence, Italy, in pursuit of clues and the truth. Jury hunts down estate agents and schoolmasters, and quaffs many appealing wines and spirits in his search for a solution.
Perhaps the most winning character in the story is Mungo the dog, Johnson's constant companion in each and every pub and restaurant. Mungo, who has witnessed the whole thing and knows who did what to whom, finds Jury decidedly obtuse in his inability to see through the tale and solve the mystery. Mungo's gamesmanship with Schrodinger the cat are some of the more amusing incidents in this highly imaginative tale.
Of the twenty Richard Jury mysteries, this is perhaps one of the more ingeniously plotted and wittily told. Martha Grimes and Richard Jury aren't getting older --- they're just getting better.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on January 13, 2011