June 20, 2018
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Who is Martha Grimes?

Astrid Riecken | The Washington Post
Astrid Riecken | The Washington Post
Recently, crime-writing doyenne Martha Grimes, 81, received the Mystery Writers of America'’s highest award, the Grand Master, joining legendary honorees such as Agatha Christie, John le Carre and Elmore Leonard. Shown in an Arlington, Va., restaurant, Grimes is a Pittsburgh girl who spent summers in western Maryland and now lives in Bethesda, Md. Her newest book is "Fadeaway Girl."
By Emmet Meara, Special to the News

It was a mystery.

How did Martha Grimes, 81, win the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America when I had never heard of her? If you gave me the choice of the Pulitzer Prize or the Nobel Peace Prize, I would prefer the Edgar Award, given out by the Mystery Writers of America. My life is dominated by noir mysteries and Cobb Manor is overflowing with volumes from Ian Rankin, Ken Bruen and my personal fave, Daniel Woodrell.

If I am awake and not eating, chances are excellent that I have my Irish beak in some novel about a motel shooting and a botched getaway — these people never get away with anything.

Amazon.com keeps me on the Sucker List and sends me suggestions every few hours for more and more books. Where will I put them all?

How, then, did Martha miss my attention when she has been writing for decades? She has sold 10 million copies of her 31 titles. With the award, she joins such luminaries as Agatha Christie, John Le Carre and the god of noir fiction, Elmore Leonard.

This requires some further investigation.

It appears that Grimes, when unsuccessful, used to buy her vodka by the half gallon, like that was a bad thing. She taught English at Montgomery College in Takoma Park, Md. (No wonder she bought vodka in volume.) Grimes apparently specialized in the “cozy” genre, or novels about quaint villages with quirky murders and an urbane Scotland Yard detective who sorts out the killer. According to Larry Light, an executive at Mystery Writers of America, the cozy genre skips blood, guts and sex so familiar to the noir novel.

Well, no wonder I never heard of her.

The urge to buy at least 10 books comes over me in waves, usually late at night. It isn’t like I have nothing to read in the house. I have a dozen magazines and several partially read books in my queen-size bed. But the heart must have what the heart wants.

My most recent order (I buy them used for 5 cents, then pay $2.50 in postage) included “Dog Eat Dog” by Edward Bunker. Let’s leave it to the New York Post. “Mr. Bunker has written a raw, unromantic naturalistic crime drama more lurid than anything the noiresque Chandlers or Hammetts ever dreamed up,” The NYP review stated.

I am halfway through “Dog” and there are already two people in the freezer. I shall now add to my Amazon wish list Bunker’s other works including “No Beat so Fierce” and “Animal Factory.”

Also in the new pile is “Townie” by Andre Dubus III, called “a meditation on violence from an author who once embraced it,” by Michael Schaub of NPR. I couldn’t resist “Night of the Gun,” by David Carr, just for the title.

“The Ranger” by Ace Atkins features a bullet-ridden window on the cover and is termed “a tough, violent thriller set in contemporary Mississippi, with the feel of a classic western like ‘High Noon’” by none other than author John Sandford.

Anne Argula, another Edgar Award winner, joins the pile with “Walla Walla Suite,” reviewed by Joseph Wambaugh as “a terrific, suspenseful tale of murder, driven by interesting and quirky characters leavened by self-deprecating humor.” Can’t wait.

Along with a book on the murder of President James A. Garfield and another about Mickey Mantle, the latest shipment includes “Chasing Darkness,” by favorite Robert Crais. Hero Elvis Cole and his even-more-heroic sidekick Joe Pike investigate a “suicide” which is, in fact, a murder.

There is even a used paperback by Robert B. Parker, “The Professional.” And I thought I had read them all, with the help of Ben Perry.

When I wade through the latest pile of books, I may consider examining the “cozy” murders of Grand Master Martha Grimes.

No blood. No guts. No sex?

Maybe not.

Send complaints and compliments to Emmet Meara at emmetmeara@msn.com.

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