Martha Grimes was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was reared in western Maryland, and worked and lived in Maryland; Washington, D.C.; and England. Her father died when she was a child, and her mother operated a summer resort near Deep Creek Lake, Maryland, to support the family, which included an older brother, Bill. After earning both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Maryland, Grimes went on to the University of Iowa, where she studied poetry. She taught English at Montgomery College in Takoma Park, Maryland, for fourteen years and also taught a seminar on detective fiction as a visiting professor at the Johns Hopkins University. She was married briefly.
After Grimes worked for some time on her poetry, she recognized that the suspense, drama, and death in her poems were strong indicators that her real strength as a writer would be detective fiction. There were several years of rejection slips before The Man with the Load of Mischief was published in 1981.
Grimes’s fascination with England began during a romance with an English writer. She began taking annual extended visits, gathering material. Although the English setting is necessary to her work, she found the perspective she gained from living in the United States to be equally important. As much as she has been compared with Agatha Christie, Grimes’s composition process is quite unlike that of Christie, who plotted her stories from the end backward. Grimes’s work is expressionist in more than imagery alone; she determines “whodunit” only after most of the story is written. Grimes’s talent has gained recognition, although she is still underrated. Her third novel, The Anodyne Necklace, won the Nero Wolfe Award for the best mystery of 1983.