The Man with a Load of Mischief

April 30, 2011 - The Man with a Load of Mischief (Martha Grimes). Scotland Yard's Richard Jury spends Christmas in Long Piddleton, where there have been two garish murders at two pubs in the area. Soon, there are three more murders on his radar. Fortunately, Melrose Plant is there to help.

Plant is an interesting character. He's over-educated, under-utilized and he gave up his title for reasons known only to him. He has a job teaching some obscure subject at University, but that only takes up a few months of the year. The rest of the time, he's hanging out at the family estate, Ardry End, or hanging out at the local pub, the Jack and Hammer. His full-time occupation seems to be trying to avoid his Aunt Agatha, the town busy-body. So, when Detective Chief Inspector Jury arrives in town, Plant is only too pleased to lend a hand where he can.

Jury will certainly need all the help he can get. By the time he and Sergeant Wiggins arrive, two strangers have been murdered. One man ended up with his head stuffed in a beer keg at a pub called The Man with a Load of Mischief. The other victim was found hanging from the sign outside The Jack and Hammer. Many of the townspeople feel the crimes must be the work of a crazed killer. But, Jury suspects someone much closer to home, and Plant provides a key clue.

This is the first novel in the series that now spans more than 20 books. Obviously, the main characters have become more defined over time, but this book definitely sets them on their respective paths. We get hints of Jury's melancholy and his complicated relationships with women; Plant proves his usefulness for the first of what will be many times; and Wiggins comes through in ways he never imagined. We also get our first meeting with the likes of Agatha, Marshall Trueblood and Vivian Rivington who always manage to provide excellent companionship down at the pub.

While it was interesting to see how the characters got their start, I found the plot itself a little contrived. Everything was tied up a little too neatly at the end. Maybe I've just gotten used to the ambiguities that surface in the later books. But, no matter. It's the characters, not the plots, that keep you coming back.