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BLUE LAST, THE
by Martha Grimes
Viking, August 2001
415 pages
$24.95
ISBN: 067003004X


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In this latest installment of the Richard Jury/Melrose Plant pub mysteries, Martha Grimes shoots off many arrows. Some hit the target. Some don't.

A former police colleague, who is dying, asks Jury to investigate a case of identity related to the London blitz during World War II. Of the two girl babies in the pub, The Blue Last, one died, and the other was rescued by the nanny. The nanny says that the rescued baby is Marcie Tynedale, who stands to inherit a fortune.Mickey believes that the nanny passed her own baby off as Marcie Tynedale, so that she will be the heiress. Since he knows he hasn't much time, Mickey asks Jury to probe the case.

The Tynedale and the Croft families were inseparable, both in business and personally. Simon Croft, who is working on a history of World War II, is found murdered -- his computer and his manuscript both missing. Jury must confront his -- perhaps faulty -- memories of his childhood during World War II. He also unearths the fact that the husband of one of the women dead in the pub was a double agent, with access to the super secret coding site at Bletchley.

The main problem with the novel is that there is just too much plot. In addition to the main plot and the subplot about the World War II code, there is a subplot involving a homeless boy who makes deliveries for a butcher, a florist, etc., who lives under Waterloo Bridge, and who befriends Gemma, a young ward in the Tynedale house plucked by the family patriarch out of nowhere.

Yet another subplot involves Melrose Plant. An art dealer in Melrose's home town has bought what may be part of an original altarpiece by the Renaissance artists Masaccio. Melrose and Marshall make a trip to Florence to authenticate the work -- but with no success. When Jury and Melrose visit the gallery from which the possible Masaccio was purchased, Jury uncovers a scam being perpetrated by the assistant to the gallery owner. Where this subplot is supposed to fit into the larger scheme of things remains a mystery.

While the ending comes as a total surprise, some threads are left hanging. We don't know what will be the resolution to the issue of the switched identities. We don't know what's to become of little Gemma. And I suppose that we are purposely kept in the dark about Jury's fate at the end.

Reviewed by Mary Devine

This book is about the past, that past which burdens and enlightens the present. Superintendent Richard Jury is invited to pay a visit to an old friend, Mickey Haggerty. The two of them grew up together and both were orphaned. Haggerty is now A DCI with the City Police. Not very long before workers clearing the last bomb damage site from World War II found several skeletons, one of a young child, and some pictures. The site had been a pub, the Blue Last.The bodies were those of the daughter of one of the owners of the pub, Alexandra, and the child of a nursemaid. Miraculously the nursemaid had Alexandraís daughter out with her and the two of them survived. Mickey is convinced that the surviving child, now an adult and heir to a very large fortune, is really the nursemaidís daughter and the maid has been lying all these years. He asks Jury to find out. He cannot for he is dying.

This leads to a murder, an investigation into code deciphering during the war and especially the Enigma machine, and Juryís memories of being a child during the war and losing both his parents. Jury is especially disturbed to discover that his memories may be all wrong. So this is about the past, but it is also about the truth. And of course what is the truth? Is it different for different people.

This is a leisurely book. Grimes takes plenty of time to introduce to us an intriguing and believable cast of characters, ranging from the old man who survived the war, through the son of his partner, the nursemaid who has become one of the family, to two delightful children and a dog. The girl, Gemma, is a ward of the old man and the boy, Benny, lives under Waterloo Bridge with his dog Sparky and runs errands for people to keep the two of them in food. These children and Sparky play key roles

in the story. Of course there is the usual cast of characters surrounding Jury. Melrose Plant is most important and there is a subplot involving Renaissance painters and a trip to Florence. I personally

prefer the books centering on Jury and eschewing the zaniness that the Long Piddleton group exudes, so I particularly enjoyed this one.

The plot is perplexing and circular and very well done. The solution came as a complete surprise to me. The story is well told and the sense of aristocrats and murder and stuffy clubs and history comes alive for the reader. It seemed to me the book was slow starting, but once into it, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is the people that make it so diverting and the past and truth that make it so stimulating. I recommend it.

Reviewed by Sally Fellows

Reviewed by Mary Elizabeth Devine, November 2001

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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