Like all of Grimes’ books in the Richard Jury series, each title is the name of a pub somewhere in the general area of where the story takes place. The Knowledge is no exception to this “rule”, but it also harbours another meaning. “The Knowledge” is the comprehensive list of street names and routes that all London cabbies must know in order to obtain their license.
Robbie Parsons is a cabbie who has just dropped his fare off at the exclusive Artemis Club when suddenly the couple are gunned down and the shooter jumps into his cab and demands that he begin driving.
Richard Jury reads about the crime the following day and recognizing one of the victims, calls in his friends Melrose Plant and Marshall Trueblood to help in tracking down the murderer, known to have escaped to Nairobi. Along with Jury’s merry band of friends, a group of young people, not unlike Holmes’ Baker Street Irregulars, take up the challenge to find the killer.
Jury’s questioning of Robbie Parsons takes place in his cab as they drive through London, passing many of the pubs that were the scenes of previous cases, while Jury reminisces about them. This had me wondering if Grimes is wrapping up the series or hedging her bets just in case she isn’t able to continue writing . Hopefully, this isn’t the case because you don’t come across many books as humorous, clever, and cunning as this one was.
THE BLACK CAT by Martha Grimes
For the past year, I’ve been reading Grimes’ Richard Jury novels in order and for the most part they’ve provided a good read. Throughout the series, certain cases have taken their toll on Jury and he reflects upon them in subsequent novels. I like to think that this makes him appear more “human” and believable as a character. The Black Cat continues a story arc started two novels previously in The Old Wine Shades and the following novel, Dust, with the character Harry Johnson. As a villain, Harry’s a pretty likeable guy, until you remember what he’s accused of doing. Jury knows he’s guilty of horrible crimes but just cannot get the goods on him. Harry sits at the periphery of the main stories in The Black Cat (a woman is found murdered in the garden of a pub of the same name and only a cat is witness to the crime); and Dust (a wealthy bachelor is murdered in his hotel room).
Some might call Grimes’ novels formulaic with the ever-present young, precocious child and her cat or dog; Melrose Plant’s bumbling about as a gardener, or a scholar (of Henry James, no less, in Dust); and the ubiquitous cups of tea that Wiggins’ partakes of at every stop along the way of whichever case they’re working on. I like the humour that these things bring to the novels and often find myself laughing out loud. They help to down-play some of the more gritty bits that we’re exposed to.
Will Jury finally get his man and have enough evidence to arrest Harry Johnson? I do hope so because he should never get away with what he’s done. Perhaps that evidence will be produced in Vertigo 42, Grimes’ most recent novel in this series. I’ll be reading it with baited breath!