Martha Grimes has a grand time toying with readers in The Black Cat, a playful tale of murder, mistaken identity, designer shoes and a talented mongrel named Mungo. There are also three black cats (four if you count the pub that gives its book the title), and, naturally, one is called Schrodinger. That cat, who has a drawer of licorice-colored kittens, and Mungo live with con man and bon-vivant Harry Johnson, who delights in bedeviling Scotland Yard’s Richard Jury.
This is the 22nd Richard Jury mystery, and it’s not for newcomers to the series, although it’s vintage Grimes with its nifty set pieces, eccentric characters and puzzling plot. Those in the know will grin and bear it (I personally can’t stand Harry Johnson) so as to see the personable Jury back in action, even as his latest lady love, Lu Aguilar, is in critical condition after a traffic accident. There’s nothing he can do other than feel guilty about not feeling guilty enough so he absorbs himself in the murders of three women, all of whom were working for different escort services under assumed names, all “dressed to kill.”
Several series regulars turn up — Wiggins, Melrose Plant, cheeky Carole-anne, but there’s an almost aimless, come-as-you-are quality to their roles. Dr. Phyllis Nancy has a star turn, and it’s about time. The story meanders in whimsical fashion before eventually reaching a satisfying resolution.
This is not my favorite Jury mystery, but I love the chapter where Jury finds a lost dog and takes it to the All-Hours Animal Hospital. “There were times when you just had to save something.”
Open Book: Martha Grimes’ The Black Cat is published by Viking. I bought my copy. I’ve interviewed Martha Grimes several times over the years, most memorably in an eerily quiet Orlando airport in 2001. Her book tour was supposed to have begun on Sept. 11, but was delayed for several days.