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The Black Cat    by Martha Grimes order for
Black Cat
by Martha Grimes
Order:  USA  Can
Viking, 2010 (2010)
* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

The publisher's publicity blurb for this author's twenty-second book in a successful series offers this tease: 'It's been more than three years since Martha Grimes dazzled critics with the New York Times bestselling mystery Dust. Now Scotland Yard Chief Superintendent Richard Jury is back in The Black Cat ... and it is brimming with the atmosphere, droll humor and introspective melancholy that have intrigued Grimes' fans for decades.'

Well, all of that is accurate and fair. Now, let me offer you something more: The always entertaining Jury is dispatched from London to Chesham, a suburban community in the Thames Valley Police jurisdiction, to investigate the murder of a beautiful, extremely well-dressed woman outside a local pub, The Black Cat. Early inquiries prove that the victim's identity is something of a surprise, and almost everyone jumps to the logical theory that the victim perhaps had been living a double life (i.e., meek and mousy at home in her small town world but brash and beautiful in cosmopolitan London). As it turns out, the beautiful young woman had plenty of secrets, and - as the story develops - Jury discovers plenty of other problems (i.e., crimes that might be related to the Chesham murder).

Exciting and provocative, The Black Cat moves along more or less briskly; however - WARNING: Here comes my personal gripe about an otherwise first-rate offering from the veteran Grimes - readers ought to prepare themselves for a few unusual twists and turns, not the least of which includes talking animals. Yes, just as authors sensibly and conventionally have characters (like Jury) talking with other characters (like colleagues and suspects), Grimes (insensibly and unconventionally, I would argue) has a tough old dog named Mungo talking with a black cat named Morris. Yes, Mungo and Morris are essential to the movement of the plot, but (to my mind) Grimes should have found a more sensible narrative strategy. But, hey, that is just my personal preference. If you like talking animals in murder mysteries, you will love The Black Cat.

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