J is for Jerusalem Inn by Martha Grimes. It could also be for Richard Jury, Grimes' star detective in her long-running mystery series which takes its titles from the names of British pubs. Here's my review of this fine detective novel:
Jerusalem Inn is one of Martha Grimes' earlier Richard Jury mysteries that I somehow missed when I was on my Grimes reading jag back in the 80s. The earlier mysteries are much more my style--more typical, straight-forward detective story than some of her later work. This one involves Richard Jury and his sidekick Melrose Plant in a couple of Christmas-time murders. A chance encounter in a graveyard finds Jury meeting Helen Minton--a beautiful woman who Jury immediately takes a liking to. He is on his way to his cousin's for the Christmas holidays (not a visit he's particularly looking forward to) and arranges to stop by one day and have dinner when Helen. However, the next time he sees her, she's in no condition to appreciate a meal. She's dead. Her death might have been taken for natural causes if not for two things--her body was found in the Old Hall where she had been showing visitors around and Jury arriving on the spot. An autopsy reveals poison.
Meanwhile, Melrose Plant and his entourage of Ruthven, his butler, his Aunt Agatha, and Vivian Rivington have been invited to a house party in the area. While there, Melrose and a young Marquess stumble over the body of another woman. This time there is no doubt as to the cause of death...a bullet hole through the ermine coat she was wearing bears witness. Jury soon becomes involved in both murders as he finds that there are those in the house party who knew both women. But is there a single motive for the removal of the two? Jury and Plant each talk with the suspects and soon Jury is given the answer....in the form of a doll who has been requisitioned to play the part of baby Jesus in the local pub's nativity scene.
What I like most about the Richard Jury stories is the characters. Jury and Plant and all the recurring characters are great fun and I have enjoyed getting to know them through the series. This one is particularly good in the scenes where Jury is interacting with children. He treats them just right. Where I find Grimes lacking is in her wrap-up. Even though you know who and why at the end...there is still a feeling that you've been left dangling. That's why I'm giving this one three and a half stars instead of four.