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10 things to know about Martha Grimes

April 7, 2010 at 6 a.m.
Updated April 6, 2010 at 11:07 p.m.

By Oline H. Cogdill

Sun Sentinel

(MCT)

Martha Grimes passes up a lot of British pubs before she spots one she likes. But her pub crawl isn't to find a hearty ale. Instead, this American-born author is more interested in the name of the pub that she'll use as the title of her latest British mystery about Scotland Yard inspector Richard Jury.

"The Black Cat" marks Grimes' 22nd outing with Jury, his aristocratic friend Melrose Plant and the eccentric residents of the postcard town of Long Piddleton. When Grimes debuted her series with the 1981 "The Man With a Load of Mischief," she proved she wasn't just dabbling in the British mystery. Instead, her combination of a solid police procedural coupled with the quaint village mystery and wry humor opened the door for other authors to meld genres.

Here's 10 Things To Know About Martha Grimes:

1. It's been three years since Grimes' last Richard Jury novel. What's the mystery behind that?

No mystery, just a business decision. Her publisher wanted to hold "The Black Cat" for publication this year rather than in 2009 because it would be better timing with the other novels she writes.

2. Each Jury novel is named after a real pub in England. So what comes first - the plot or the pub?

The pub. "The name has to be thought-provoking enough to get the story moving," said Grimes in an interview.

3. Once she finds the pub, how long does she stay?

"I don't have to hang around a pub, really, to get an idea. I usually visit it once, get the layout, the atmosphere, the feel of it," she said.

4. Two reoccurring questions come up at each book signing: 1) How old is Richard Jury and 2) when will Jury and Melrose Plant settle down?

"Jury fans have the idea that Jury and Plant are aging along with them, that the characters get one year older with each book," Grimes said. "They don't. The reader is ignoring the fact that, for instance, the last five books were not five years apart, but only a matter of months apart. The reader has aged five years, but the characters less than one year."

As for when will Jury or Plant settle down? "I have no idea, yet," she said, keeping the mystery going.

5. If Grimes could start the Jury series over, the only change she'd make would be to set the series in the 1950s.

6. Grimes has been writing about Jury, Plant and Little Piddleton for 29 years. She once ended a novel with Jury shot but she says she never meant to kill her character. (And no, we won't tell you which novel that was.)

"I never really considered ending the series, but even if I did, Melrose Plant could have carried it on. I've always liked Jury too much to kill him off. Why did I end (that novel) that way? Because it made for a very melancholy scene. It was almost surreal. And it's interesting that readers didn't notice that help was in the background rushing to Jury."

7. Passionate about animal rights, Grimes became a vegetarian in 1975 after watching the CBS documentary "The Guns of Autumn." She's weaved this interest into two of her stand-alone novels, "Biting the Moon" and "Dakota." She donated two-thirds of the royalties for "Biting the Moon" to animal welfare groups and does more appearances for animal groups than at bookstores.

8. A lifelong Anglophile, she has visited England scores of times, but has never lived there full time. Has the country lost its charm?

"In a way it has, but it was always an illusion, wasn't it?" she said. "The England I write about doesn't strike me as the real one. The books set in London are, I think, more realistic, but still illusory in a way."

9. Grimes has spasmodic dysphonia, a voice disorder, which often made it difficult at public appearances. Starting in 2004, she began to have botox shots to help correct the issue.

10. Grimes has never been nominated for an Edgar award. However, her novels have won the Nero Wolfe Award and two Mystery Guild Awards. "The Man With a Load of Mischief" is on the list of 100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century and 14 of her novels have been on best-sellers lists, including eight that landed on the New York Times Best Sellers List.

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