cover image Cold Flat Junction

Cold Flat Junction

Martha Grimes. Viking Books, $24.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-670-89491-8

Grimes made her reputation with her Richard Jury mysteries, but she has also successfully produced character-driven psychological fiction. This smartly written, quietly paced sequel to her 1996 hit Hotel Paradise revisits precocious 12-year-old sleuth Emma Graham, working in her family's fading resort hotel on Spirit Lake in smalltown America. Setting this narrative a week after the close of its predecessor, Grimes chronicles Emma's investigation of three family murders. Ben Queen has recently been released from prison after serving 20 years for the murder of his wife, Rose Devereau Queen. Fern Queen, Rose and Ben's daughter, who ""had always been touched in the head,"" is found shot, and Ben is once again the prime suspect. Emma knows that Ben could not have committed either murder. Unfortunately, she can't tell the sheriff without letting on that Ben is hiding in the old Devereau house. Emma is aware that all these events began 40 years ago with the mysterious drowning death of 12-year-old Mary-Evelyn Devereau, who was being cared for by her three aunts, Rose's half sisters. And who is the spectral ""Girl"" who keeps appearing and disappearing? Skillfully constructed as a smart, independent child learning to be a self-aware adult, Emma has a talent for indirect routes, self-fulfilling lies and pumping her unwitting sources for a great deal of information. Her meditations can occasionally make slow reading, and she tells her story in almost as roundabout a way as she investigates, but the effect is surprisingly satisfying. Like Ruth Rendell writing as Barbara Vine, Grimes obviously enjoys straying from more traditional mysteries, though under her own name. Fans of Grimes's Richard Jury series undoubtedly read her in both incarnations, and the sophisticated jacket design should help lure general readers to this well-wrought narrative. (Feb.)