Help the Poor Struggler

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The story opens on a chilling note with a five-year-old child reporting her mother’s brutal murder. The scene then shifts forward twenty years to the present as a young boy is murdered outside a pub. His death is soon followed by those of two other children and the gruesome case is assigned to superintendent Richard Jury of Scotland Yard. Working alongside Jury is the local divisional commander, Brian Macalvie, a blunt, pugnacious policeman who has failed to solve only one case to his satisfaction during his long career--that of the murdered woman twenty years ago.

In the course of their investigation, Jury and Macalvie encounter the coldly unemotional Reverend Linley White, grandfather of one of the murdered children; Molly Singer, a tormented, agoraphobic young woman who becomes a suspect after she discovers one of the bodies; and Lady Jessica Mary Allan-Ashcroft, a ten-year-old heiress whose uncle and guardian, Robert Ashcroft, has been mysteriously absent during the time the crimes were committed.

HELP THE POOR STRUGGLER is Martha Grimes’s sixth Richard Jury mystery, and the book follows the pattern and style of its five predecessors. Although Grimes herself is an American, her books are set in England and follow in the footsteps of the classic British murder mystery rather than the hard boiled American style pioneered by Dashiell Hammett. All six novels take their names from English pubs and feature an eccentric English aristocrat and amateur detective named Melrose Plant, who assists Jury in his investigations. Also aiding the superintendent is one of Grimes’s most inspired creations: Detective Sergeant Wiggins. A confirmed hypochondriac, Wiggins sucks on cough drops and guards against sudden chills as he doggedly tracks down suspects. Grimes’s trump card, however, is Jury himself. Intelligent, witty, personable, and compassionate, he is a detective with a special affinity for children and a useful ability to relate to each character on his or her own level.

Grimes’s plots are often farfetched, if entertaining, and in this respect HELP THE POOR STRUGGLER is no exception. Yet if the story’s solution stretches credibility and leaves a stray end or two untied, its appealing sense of humor and crisp pacing and style should please admirers of the traditional British murder mystery.