Martha Grimes

 

The Horse You Came In On

 

A riddle: What could be more pathetic than Grimes’ character Alejandro Vlasic? Grimes pours out the scorn, portraying this ridiculous figure in his ostentatious dress and preening, and laughable jealousy of his commercially successful genre fiction colleague. He sniffs arrogantly at her merely populist work, embarrassingly thrusting copies of his own justifiably ignored tiny single volume of pretentious poetry at anyone passing – all the while eating his liver in envy. We’re left in no doubt that, unlike his colleague, he’s a complete loser.

 

More pathetic than petty little Professor Vlasic? Well, how about a commercially successful genre fiction writer going to the trouble of carefully creating such a character. Really for Grimes to spend so much time glorifying a character, ahem, much like herself, and pillorying those who, it seems, she fears criticism from, is at best embarrassing for the reader.

 

Maybe I’ve started at the wrong end of her career – an amazon reviewer elsewhere recommended her ‘Man with a load of Mischief’, but I found the later ‘Horse’ at my local library instead. It felt really indulgent – many of the characters are writers, and Grimes just seems unaware that it’s bad form for her to so unsubtly laud ones like herself. Moreover it feels like Jury and Melrose are supposed to be old friends – perhaps back for a last time reunion tour or something and we’re just supposed to relish their presence. I don’t even know if I would have, however, even if I had enjoyed them in previous books. It feels like those awful 'On Tour' TV episodes - you know, the Happy Days cast goes to Australia or something.

 

The detective story, at least, is engaging enough while it’s there, but it’s hardly central and driving. This is usually for me an attraction of a crime novel: I particularly enjoy ones that have enough going in character, humour and observation that they don’t stand or fall on the plot – much as we can enjoy some of the ride when it’s driving things. However Grimes’ diversions generally don’t grab me – particularly (did you get this) when she seems to be blowing her own trumpet (cf. Asimov’s appallingly arrogant drivel in the last of his Foundation novels).

 

February 2005