cover image The Old Contemptibles

The Old Contemptibles

Martha Grimes. Little, Brown and Company Inc, $19.95 (333pp) ISBN 978-0-316-32894-4

Richard Jury, London police superintendent, is a suspect himself in Grimes's 11th mystery named after English pubs--this one in the Lake District of poets Wordsworth and Coleridge. Jury is considering marriage to recently met widow Jane Holdsworth at the moment her teenaged son Alex finds her dead, apparently a suicide. Alex runs away, and Jury, required, as a suspect, to remain in London, sends old friend Melrose Plant up to the Lakes to learn what he can about the wealthy Holdsworth family, among whom Jane's death is the fourth suspicious one. Eccentric, appealing characters hold this scattershot plot together. Best are vulnerable, brave and preternaturally bright youngsters Alex, who cheats at poker and the horses brilliantly, and 11-year-old orphan Millie Thale, who cooks at Holdsworth manse and broods over her own mother's unexpected death five years before. Equally vivid are two residents at a nearby rest home for the wealthy elderly: sly Adam Holdsworth, who holds the pursestrings that tie the tale together, and his elegant foxy friend, the perceptive and kleptomaniacal Lady Cray. While the villain's exposure and motivation are inadequately developed, the tale's dramatic conclusion, the lowering setting and its entertaining denizens provide full compensation. (Jan.)