Thirty-something years ago, Martha Grimes was a single mom with a drinking problem. She bought vodka in half-gallon jugs. She taught English 101 at Montgomery College in Takoma Park, Md., a job she couldn’t stand. She argued so vehemently with post office clerks about mailing rates for her manuscripts — she wanted the cheaper book rate — that her son, embarrassed, preferred to wait in the car. She was in her late 40s. She had never published anything. Ten days ago, the 81-year-old crime-writing doyenne accepted the Mystery Writers of America’s highest award, the Grand Master, joining legendary honorees such as Agatha Christie, John le Carre and Elmore Leonard. She has sold some 10 million copies of her books in the United States alone. Her catalog lists 31 titles. She has been published in 17 countries. She did almost all of this after she was retired, sober and over 50. Her name did not appear on a bestseller list until she was 56. She didn’t make serious money until she was 60. Larry Light, executive vice president of Mystery Writers, says her late-in-life burst of creativity has reworked the traditional British mystery that skips the blood and guts and sex. This is known as a “cozy” in the trade — novels about quaint villages with quirky murders and an urbane detective who sorts out the killer from a list of odd if not endearing suspects. The award comes with prestige, a banquet in New York and a small bust of Edgar Allan Poe, the association’s patron saint. Grimes has written non-mystery books set in other places, but she’s best known for her series involving Scotland Yard detective Richard Jury, who has solved murders in 22 books, most often in small-town Britain.
Names in the news, May 5
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