- - Thursday, April 12, 2018


By Martha Grimes

Atlantic Monthly Press, $26, 368 pages

Eccentrically named and sometimes bizarre pubs have long been part of the British scene, yet Martha Grimes is perhaps the only mystery writer who has made a literary career out of places like The Only Running Footman, The Old Wine Shades and, now, The Knowledge.

The Knowledge is the most well-guarded and mysterious pub of them all. It is so secret that no London taxi driver — a breed famous for their remarkable knowledge of the city’s mews and byways — will take you there. They will in fact take you a long way to a pub which sounds like The Knowledge but isn’t. The only investigator who was taken there was given entry because he had saved a child’s life and was blindfolded.

Richard Jury of Scotland Yard is still the debonair hero of the pub books yet he is overwhelmed by the vivid personalities of the cast around him. For example, there is 10-year-old Patty Haigh, a child of the streets who in a strange way is protected by the street people and the taxi drivers who are ferociously protective. But despite their care, Patti is a creature tough enough to hook onto the man whom she has just seen murder two people and then finagle her way into a first class seat on a plane to Dubai before discovering they are really on their way to Kenya. Who knows where the charm of this wicked mite will take her, but The Knowledge may hold the clues.

Especially after she encounters Jury’s friend, Melrose Plant, a genuine peer of the realm who doesn’t act like it. His favorite place in London is Borings, which welcomes Jury and lives up to it name. Of course, people such as kids and detectives are not welcome at Borings, which is one of the pub’s charms — that and its centenarian help.

Ms. Grimes has written a romp of a book that is often unintentionally hilarious. Even when Patty is saved from death when the mother of a cheetah cub is shot, she blames the man who shot the mother. The cub is an orphan now, she points out, and the animals were there first.

The book is packed with references to animal rights, and it is populated by vegans, a collection of awful American tourists and the Attaboys. The whole thing is rather like a wonderful patchwork quilt with Jury patiently stitching the clouds together in the middle to come up with a surprising solution. Of course, he ropes in friends from his favorite English village and its pub The Jack and Hammer and even persuades one of them to become a croupier at the exclusive Artemis Club in London.

The new croupier, one Marshall Trueblood, is bred to the job, having run a game call the Razorbite in school — and anywhere else he could play something involving picking up bare razor blades with your fingers. He is a smash, of course, and even the owner of the club admits it while teaching Jury some finer points about art and Tanzanian jewels,

It tells you a good deal about the author that the book ends up with Jury literally in a glass-ceilinged tree house recalling what he had been taught by a murdered man who had spoken to him of the properties of a gibbous moon.

Jury finds himself and his thoughts as he reaches the platform near the top of the tree house. “There were stars over London and a moon but he didn’t think he’d ever seen the light splinter and spill over London as it did over the glass ceilinged tree house.”

After that Jury doesn’t worry anymore about The Knowledge because he knows it will always be there but only for those who need it.

Muriel Dobbin is a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and the Baltimore Sun.

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