The Grave Maurice

March 28, 2008 - The Grave Maurice (Martha Grimes). This entry in the author's Richard Jury series is gray and gloomy with nary a happy ending in sight. It's also utterly absorbing. On my third attempt at reading it, I read it in eight days (which is good for me). Why I couldn't finish it the first two times, I don't recall.

The book begins with Superintendent Richard Jury of Scotland Yard in hospital, recovering after being shot. To occupy his time, he ponders the disappearance of his surgeon's teenage daughter, Nell Ryder. Of course, with Jury laid up, he'll need his titled friend, Melrose Plant, to be his eyes and ears.

Plant poses as a horse buyer and heads to Ryder Farms, near Cambridge. He arrives while police are there. It seems a woman has been found dead on the training track. A day or two later, Melrose realizes that he's seen her before at The Grave Maurice, a pub in London, and that the woman was talking about the Ryder family. She turns out to be the second wife of the dearly departed jockey Danny Ryder, son of the farm's owner, Arthur Ryder.

At the heart of the story is Arthur's granddaughter, Nell. She was 15 when she vanished almost two years previously (the story is set in the early months of 1996). The family has no idea what happened to her or why. We learn that she was taken by someone who also took Aqueduct, one of Ryder Farms' prize studs. Nell and Aqueduct have ended up at a place only a few miles away where mares are kept pregnant so their urine can be used for a drug something like Premarin. Nell has endured her captivity (including rape) in order to free some of the horses. She works out a way to take a few mares to the safety of her family's unused barn. Eventually, she resurfaces and goes to her stepbrother, Vernon Rice, for help in rescuing the other horses.

Jury is finally released from the hospital to continue his convalescence at home. But, rather than rest, he follows the unofficial investigation from London to Cambridgeshire to Wales to the friendly confines of The Jack and Hammer in Long Piddleton, where Plant lives. The key question is who did the people who took Nell and Aqueduct really want? The girl? Or the horse? Answering that question gives Jury the clue he needs to unravel the whole sordid tale.

The book has an overall air of gloom due in part to the fact that it takes place in the dead of winter. With the exception of the reappearance of Nell, there's not much to be happy about here. And, Jury's usual melancholy is only heightened by his brush with death. Still, for the reader, it's comforting and a pleasure to be among friends once again.