The Old Wine Shades is one of my favorite Martha Grimes novels featuring her beloved Richard Jury of New Scotland Yard. All the elements that make a good Jury story are in place; there’s Jury himself spending a lot of the book with his new buddy Harry at a central London wine bar, there’s the idle rich Melrose Plant and his band of cronies, there’s a dog named Mungo who has more than a few narrative lines in the story and, oh yeah, there’s a murder to be solved too.
These days, I actually read detective novels of the British variety more for their characters and settings than the solving of the latest murder the familiar Inspector is tasked with. That’s why I enjoy The Old Wine Shades so much, it takes the reader into the world of upscale wine as it points out the foibles of human nature and it has Melrose Plant as Jury’s unlikely sidekick who provides a lot of the witty repartee needed in a British mystery.
There’s also Sergeant Wiggins who verges on hypochondria every day and who never met a free cup of tea he didn’t like and we also get the youthful Carole-anne and her flaming red hair who lives in the same building as Jury but tends to spend most of her time in the Inspectors flat trying to find out all she can about Jury’s female liaisons.
Much of the story builds around Mungo the dog’s reappearance after he and his human family disappeared. The story of the dog coming back is how Jury’s new wine drinking buddy Harry first piqued Jury’s interest in the dog, the family and Harry. Jury keeps going back to the wine bar for three consecutive nights as Harry adds more and more complexity to the story as they both drink their fill of high end wine suggested by the barman Trevor who has a encyclopedic knowledge of the fruit of the vine. While all this drinking and talking is going on, Mungo the dog is taking it all in as he lolls around their feet.
If you want a bit of a murder mystery with a whole lot of English culture and countryside, this is your book. Grimes also wrote a couple of other good books around this time period; The Black Cat and Dust have their own merits as far as murder in jolly old England is concerned.