This book is just the second half of Belle Ruin
. The two should be combined. It's actually the fourth of the Emma Graham stories, but Hotel Paradise
and Cold Flat Junction
stand on their own. The last two only stand together.
By some quirk, my spouse picked up Hotel Paradise
some 15 or so years ago for vacation reading (she probably thought it was another Richard Jury mystery). I loved it. It is one of my favorite books ever. The heroine, Emma Graham is a spunky, creative 12-year old. I have this awesome niece who was about 12 when I read Hotel Paradise
, so in part I expect my liking of the book had to do with my liking my awesome niece. Still it was a great story. When we discovered Cold Flat Junction
at a church fair a few years ago, I was delighted to become reacquainted with Emma. The story was almost as compelling as Hotel Paradise
These last two books don't match up. Martha Grimes has let things which were once charming or funny become overworked and annoying. Spiking the salad of a crabby old lady once or twice is fun, but when Emma does it with regularity, it becomes sociopathically cruel. Not good.
One of the charms of the first two books, and The End of the Pier
, which is set in the same place and has some of the same characters, albeit not Emma, is that you can't be sure of the time or place. The locale is around a faded resort hotel which has seen better times. Perhaps its in the Adirondacks or Poconos, that's where these kinds of resorts used to flourish. It turns out, in this book that they're in Western Maryland, Garret County, no doubt. Wow, I never knew any one in Maryland who ever bothered going to Garret County for vacation (or any other reason). They went to Ocean City or Pennsylvania, or some such. Even the Boy Scouts didn't go to Garret County. I would think it even less likely to have New Yorkers vacation in Garret County. But, it's possible, I suppose, so that part only bothered me a tiny bit.
But we get a much better handle on the time period in this book, which takes away some of the book's enigmatic charm. Things pretty much have to be in the 1960s at a minimum because there are 50 states and because young, star struck girls from 20 years before the period in the book were enamored by Veronica Lake. Well, Veronica was pretty much done by the mid 1940s and definitely not a factor in anyone's reckoning by 1950. So, here we are in the 1960s, but the 12-year old in the story knows Ink Spots
songs by heart, and her older brother's musical friend is all over tin-pan alley, Paper Moon
, and so forth. No way 1960s teenagers weren't into Elvis, Frankie Avalon, Annette, The Drifters, et al (but the 90-something year old great aunt liked Patience and Prudence? WTF?). Anyway, when the time wasn't clear, the books were rather more fun. When the time becomes clarified, one realizes that all the cultural references are wrong. WTF? I was much happier when I couldn't decide if the time were the 1940s or 1950s, but when it became clear it had to be the 1960s, it just didn't gibe.
So, I think what I'm trying to say, is the first couple of books in this series are rather awesome, but Martha Graham has pretty much shot her wad by the time she got to these last two. Even so, Fadeaway Girl
and Belle Ruin
are still fun reads, albeit no longer awesome (unlike my niece who has long since left 12 behind, but who is, never-the-less, still awesome).