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Interview: February 24, 2006

February 24, 2006's contributing writer Roz Shea interviewed mystery author Martha Grimes about her newest release, THE OLD WINE SHADES --- the 20th installment in the bestselling Richard Jury series. Grimes shares the inspiration behind the novel's title, and discusses which of her characters have real-life counterparts and which are figments of her imagination. She also speculates on the future of her new series featuring Emma Graham and reveals just how much she really knows about two recurring subjects in her latest book --- oenology and quantum mechanics. You pick up the story in THE OLD WINE SHADES with the last scene from the prior book, THE WINDS OF CHANGE. Did that tagline haunt you after you wrote it, or did you already have this continuing storyline in mind when you finished the previous book?

Martha Grimes: I meant the next book to begin exactly where WINDS OF CHANGE ended. No, I didn't have a plot in mind. I thought it would be interesting to have Jury in a long, long conversation with someone else.

BRC: In THE OLD WINE SHADES you display a fair bit of knowledge about two esoteric subjects: oenology, the art or science of wine tasting; and of all things, quantum mechanics! I can't imagine two more diverse subjects coming together for a mystery, but they do. Where did the idea to merge these topics come from?

MG: Any knowledge of wine on my part is pretty bogus. But since this was one of the El Vino wine bars, and I always like badinage between barmen and Jury, I did have to make Harry a bit of an expert. Thus, there was no attempt to merge wine with quantum mechanics. My knowledge of physics is about as bogus as my knowledge of wine. I happened to pick up a copy of a book called QUANTUM and was fascinated by the illustrations. They were wonderfully weird, especially the ones depicting the thought-experiment called "Schrodinger's Cat." Then, I happened to pick up a copy of a book about Godel's "incompleteness" theory and was also fascinated by that. Why did I decide to use it? Because (1) Jury knew nothing about it (just like me) and so could be sucked into this odd tale and (2) I just loved "the dog came back" and the notion there were a lot of extra dimensions out there. Jury could not possibly have "disproved" this; he's clever but not that clever.

BRC: Having just struggled through the movie Down the Rabbit Hole, a sequel to What the Bleep Do We Know!?, which deals in quantum physics, the fourth dimension and duality, where did you pick up your knowledge of this mystery of the ages? You explain it better than all the physics professors in that film!

MG: I'm extremely flattered that you think I explained quantum physics so well. I can hardly wait to get all of the irate letters from physicists taking me to task. (Who am I kidding?)

BRC: The true hero of the tale is an engaging mutt named Mungo. You dedicate the book to Vicky and to the memory of Dodger, whom we might suppose is a dog? Is Mungo's gamesmanship with Schrodinger, the cat, based on real experience? Those scenes are genuine, laugh-out-loud moments in the book.

MG: No, Dodger was a cat. This is just coincidental. No real life experience here; I just get a kick out of writing from an animal's point of view. Actually, I was rather worried that Mungo might irritate the reader, but he hasn't yet.

BRC: How do you find the pub names you feature in your novels? Do you actually visit them and use interior descriptions in each book?

MG: Pub names: Most of them I have visited, I think, and, yes I do note the interiors. A few pubs, such as The Old Contemptibles, I've moved from their original location to a location I want.

BRC: With 20 Richard Jury mysteries under your belt --- or should we say "down the hatch" since they are all named after real-life pubs --- what is the name of your next pub and how did you come across it?

MG: The next pub? Sorry, I never tell anyone the next title/pub name. I found THE OLD WINE SHADES wandering around Clerkenwell, a section of London that is getting very trendy.

BRC: When you are in a pub what drink do you call for from the bartender?

MG: What drink do I call out? Anything, anything! In the good old days, Guinness.

BRC: Richard Jury and his fellow mystery solvers are a quaint lot. Have they grown strictly from your imagination, or are they based on people in your life?

MG: All of the characters are strictly imaginary (allowing, of course, for people wafting up from my unconscious), except the Crippses! Yes, the White Rhino and Ash the Flash do indeed exist. So do the little footprints in the greasy pan that so appalled Sgt. Wiggins.

BRC: Is the Boring Men's Club an actual place? The name is so perfectly suited to its members.

MG: Boring's is also imaginary.

BRC: I don't want to reveal anything, but the story isn't finished yet. And we are left wanting more Mungo! Will he be back?

MG: I'm sure Harry Johnson --- I love Harry --- and Mungo will creep back in again.

BRC: Your new series featuring Emma Graham has gained you new fans, but also raised some ire among the Richard Jury readers. Will we see more of Emma anytime soon?

MG: Actually, I don't think these books irritated Jury fans. There are quite a few readers who've told me they like these books even more. Emma was never intended as a serial character. COLD FLAT JUNCTION was not to have been told from her point of view. But I got so fond of Emma while I was writing about her, now it looks as if she may never go away. So, yes there will be another book about Emma.

BRC: What are you working on now and when can we expect to see it?

MG: I'm working on another Jury book, which will be out, I imagine, next year; I am also working on another book like BITING THE MOON, addressing another issue regarding animal abuse. I'm not sure when that will get published.