Grimes, Martha

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GRIMES, Martha

Born Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (birthdate not available)

Daughter of D. W. and June Dunnington Grimes; married and divorced; children: Kent Van Holland

The popular English-mystery series Martha Grimes has written features Scotland Yard Inspector Richard Jury and his sidekick, amateur sleuth Melrose Plant. Inspired by the name of a British pub for her debut mystery novel (The Man with a Load of Mischief, 1981), Grimes continued the theme with all of the Richard Jury novels that followed. The pub names serve not only as the title but also as part of the setting in each book. In 1983 Grimes told a reporter, "Unless I have the pub name first, I can't write the book." She has also said she often doesn't know who the murderer is until she's halfway through writing the book.

Her mystery novels are truly a series in that the characters continue from one book to the next with relatively little introduction, and previous events are frequently alluded to. Grimes' main characters, Richard Jury, the tall, cultured and quiet professional, and Melrose Plant, the agreeable, aristocratic amateur, have been called an unusual duo. Plant's American-born, interfering Aunt Agatha is another recurring character.

Commended for her sense of humor and graceful writing style, Grimes has been described as a literary descendant of Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie. But unlike her native-Briton predecessors, Grimes, a devout Anglophile, relies on research and frequent trips to England to gather material for her settings and characters' backgrounds. While her plots have been described as complex and convoluted, the depth of plot and the strong emotional appeal of her eccentric characters have made Grimes a favorite in America. There are those, however, particularly British readers, who take pleasure in pointing out factual errors in her books, such as trains leaving from the incorrect London station. These errors, however, have decreased as the series has progressed.

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where her father was the city solicitor, Grimes spent summers at her mother's hotel in Mountain Lake Park, Maryland. Her favorite memories of that time include the theatrical productions her brother staged in the garage behind the hotel. She earned her B.A. and M.A. at the University of Maryland and went on to teach English at the University of Iowa and at Frostburg State College in Maryland, where she was an assistant professor. In the late 1990s Grimes was an English professor at Montgomery College in Tacoma Park, Maryland, and on occasion she also teaches detective fiction at Johns Hopkins University. She has residences in both Washington, D.C., and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

After introducing readers to Richard Jury in The Man with a Load of Mischief, discovered in an unsolicited manuscripts pile by an editor at Little, Brown in 1979 and published with a first printing of three thousand copies, Grimes published The Old FoxDeceiv'd in 1982. The following year, 1983, Grimes' third novel in the series, The Anodyne Necklace, earned her the Nero Wolfe award for best mystery of the year along with critical acclaim. The Five Bells and Bladebone put Grimes on the New York Times bestseller list in 1987. Her next two books in the series, The Old Silent (1989) and The Old Contemptibles (1991), also made the bestseller list.

In 1992 Grimes broke from her fans' beloved Jury series with The End of the Pier, which combined a serial-murder mystery in Maryland with the touching exploration of a mother and son relationship. Though it was praised by critics, Richard Jury fans felt betrayed and reacted much more negatively. In 1993 Grimes told a reporter, "Perhaps I should have published under a pseudonym."

Twice during the 15-book Jury series, Grimes brought her Scotland Yard inspector to America. The Horse You Came In On (1993) was titled after a pub she came across in Baltimore. "I knew I would have to figure out some way to get Jury and Melrose to come over [to America]," Grimes said in 1993, "purely on the basis of the name of this pub." Fan reaction was so positive that her characters crossed the Atlantic again in Rainbow's End (1995).

In 1999 Grimes published Biting the Moon, the first in a series of novels that explores animal welfare, a topic of keen interest to her, with most of her royalties going to animal charities. On why she wrote Biting the Moon, Grimes says, "While the characters are fictional, the practices are not. This is my way of reaching people. So many people can be reached through fiction."

Other Works:

The Dirty Duck (1984). Jerusalem Inn (1984). Help the Poor Struggler (1985). The Deer Leap (1985). I Am the Only Running Footman (1986). Send Bygraves (1989). Hotel Paradise (1996). The Case Has Altered (1997). The Stargazey (1998).


Book Review Digest 1997 (1998). CA (1986). Heising, W., Detecting Women 2 (1996). Swanson, J., and D. James, By a Woman's Hand (1994).