Friday, May 1, 2009

Barbara's thoughts on The Stargazey

I don’t often read mysteries, so it was somewhat exciting to launch into a book destined to be a “who done it?” I was not disappointed in that regard.

I actually think Martha Grimes’ greatest strength was in her character development. She told us enough about each character, from Melrose to Linda Pink to the Fabricants, to allow us to create a fairly good mental image of them.

But there were so many characters and I often forgot some of the more minor ones as the story progressed and then they would reappear. Whereas Out Stealing Horses might have been criticized for having too few characters, The Stargazey possibly errs in the opposite direction.

I found myself longing for certain characters, like Father Noailles or Linda Pink or young Sophie, to take a more leading role in the denouement, whereas they simply dropped away and in Sophie’s case turned out to be fabricated.

I really loved some of the descriptions of scenes, like the men’s club in London and the home of both Mona Dresser and Ilona Kuraukov.

From the beginning, we see the killer Dana as a ruthless woman who lets no one get in the way of her objective. She kills with no remorse. And yet she lets Melrose and Jury off with hardly a scratch when she had ample opportunity to kill the only two people who had figured her out.

In the end the mystery is explained, but the villain(ess) gets away with the goods. I suppose that sets up the scene for a sequel, but it seems a little unfair after 400 pages to let her get away.

Then there’s this business of stars. They are everywhere in the book:
-- The Stargazey (pub)
-- starry-gazey pie (a real thing)
-- Diane’s interest in stargazing
-- the magical Stardust shop in London with its night wood scene
-- Father Noailles as the amateur stargazer with a telescope in his room
-- Kate McBride (the fake) sitting at an outdoor cafe in Brussels where there were so many stars
-- “It wasn’t in the stars” for Jury to follow Kate (the fake) onto the palace grounds.
-- Jury’s dream of Chief Superintendent Racer at a fun fair at the top of the big wheel, stuck against a black and starless sky

One would think with all this mention of stars, they would have something to do with the plot itself. But as far as I can tell, Martha just seems to be fascinated with stars.

The comment on the art itself was so accurate. The wonderful pieces of Bea Slocum were being totally overlooked because of Ralph Rees’ “Snow” pieces.

I’m afraid there were parts of the plot that I simply could not follow. By the end I sort of knew what happened, but there were many connections I had missed. Perhaps a second read would point them out. In a way, the false leads had somewhat obliterated the real ones, and of course one doesn’t know the difference the first time through.

The Stargazey was nonetheless a good read. I will keep my ear out for news of Dana and the smuggled Chagall.


  1. Barbara, well done! Martha seems to do this with every Jury mystery; centering on a pub, the building the characters. Too, you're spot on 'bout all the things found that work their way into the book title( especially the Stardust, which features in many of the stories ). And don't worry about the plot. Usually there's more than one( sometimes up to four or more ), but she ties them all to-gether in the end. Just when you think you've got it figured out, another plot is tossed in to try and fool you. Like Jury, you have to chip away at it all.

    I also liked the way she worked in the various art references( this is prominent through-out the series ). And when Melrose discoved the truth about Bea Slocum( that she was the artist and not her ex- boyfriend ). But Dana always seemed one step ahead of every-one. Haven't "seen" her in any of the other books, so she may end up as a phantom character; never to be brought back. Then again, Martha has a certain way with bringing back forgotten characters. Glad you enjoyed the book.

    I've got to get my copy of Mister Pip, when I return home. Anon!

  2. hi Barbara and Subt- and everyone. I enjoyed reading your comments Barbara- I will be back to post my own- but i have had to take a break from blogging for reasons explained on my blog.

    I agree that there were so many characters it was difficult to follow them all sometimes...but i will save the rest for my post!

    BTW I have 2 friends who would like to 'join' the reading group- does anyone have any objections? they are my sister's sisters-in-law, one lives in UK, one in France. They are not currently bloggers and would have to create profiles.

    Be back soon :)

  3. I liked the astrologer more than I thought I would at first, and I was actually glad some characters stayed minor (like the priest) and self-centered Pansy! I liked Kitty and her wanting to keeps the bottles sparkling (the sapphire gin bottle especially was her favorite -it made me think of star sapphires.) And I was fine with the idea of a sequel or many, as Jury tries to get the evil woman. it seems she enjoyed the game and hopefully her character / personality will be exposed more the next time--? I liked that there were a lot of characters, but it didn't seem like a lot if you read Dickens or other authors who populate their books in a real world way.

  4. Thank you Barbara, for the review and listing some starry things. I forgot some of them.

  5. I say the more, the merrier in terms of participants. In fact, I would be in favor of opening this Blog up to anyone who wants to participate (i.e. no more 'members only'). Is there a downside to that?

  6. I agree with Barbara, can we go public?

  7. Sure, let's do it! Remember, you are all administrators and can add anyone as an author any time you want!

    But I will certainly remove the privacy restrictions, to start...

  8. I shall post my comments here on Stargazey as I am a bit late in the day and don't want to take away focus from megan's new post!

    I am a novice reader of this genre- the detective novel. I have not even read an Agatha Christie. It seems that authors of this genre write prolifically and gather faithful followers. I felt as though I was dipping into a well-established TV series- one in which, in order to fully appreciate what was going on, you should have been watching from the first episode!

    By the end of the novel I just about had a grip on who the characters were, but I did not find this easy due to the great numbers of characters. I suspect quite a few of these characters have appeared in Grimes' other novels and a true fan will have come to know them as old friends.

    I thought the Melrose/Jury pairing worked well and I could see them in a TV adaptation- I wondered if any of Grimes' novels have been adapted for TV?

    I liked the character of Diane- making up horoscopes! I liked some of the humour in the book and, like Barbara, I liked the descriptions of the Art. I recently went to the Fulham Road, but did not travel it's whole length, so did not discover if the 'Stargazey' was a real pub!

    Although Grimes is published in the UK, I felt that she was not really writing for an English audience as there was quite a bit of stereotyping of the Englishness. Maybe it was just a bit dated as there was little evidence of modern multicultural Britain. Or maybe it is just that Grimes is writing about a social class (the 'upper class' privileges of Mens' Clubs)of which I have no experience and which seems foreign to me. A person who has not spent time in England might think that all this lounging around on leather sofas reading newspapers was the norm!

    I cannot really put my finger on exactly why I did not enjoy the book as much as other books I have read. Maybe I should read a few more detective stories to be able to appreciate the genre. People tell me that the Sherlock Holmes stories are good. And Agatha. I shall definitely not exclude this genre in future- and for this reason I am glad to have read 'The Stargazey'!

  9. Cinnamon,

    I'm not a big reader of mysteries, altho I will read whatever friends pass along to me, or suggest, so I understand what you mean. I think I will read more of her Jury series though.