Saturday, July 19, 2014

Paradise & Old Murders

"Life was hard, but I was resolute."
~ Emma Graham, Hotel Paradise

I missed the voice of twelve-year-old Emma Graham the second I finished Martha Grimes’s Hotel Paradise.  And lucky me, BookOutlet had a $10-dollars-off-when-you-spend-$30 deal happening.  Even more thrilling, the remaining three books in Emma Graham’s series was in stock.  SOLD!  I packed my e-cart then went about my gleeful business.  As I write this–days after reading Hotel Paradise–I have yet to find myself lost in another book.  I'm currently struggling through Marlon James’s The Book of Night Women, because it’s apparent that what I really want is more Emma Graham.  Crazy, right?  Has this ever happened to you?

Emma Graham reminds me of myself when I was twelve, and on forward.  She pays close attention to adults.  She asks questions without much regard.  Sometimes those questions are attached to requests for favors.  She also speaks most of her mind to adults, but knows when to hold back for her own, stealthy advantage.  She’s the definition of precocious and brassy, but never to the point where she becomes an unlikable smart-ass.  Tack on how hilarious and perceptive she is, and not once did I feel any dislike for her.  

Most of that is probably because I understood where she was coming from.  She and her family resides and works (she waits tables) in a lakefront resort hotel called Hotel Paradise.  They somewhat inherited it through Emma's father, but not quite with Emma's biting great-aunt hanging over the place from her fourth floor bedroom.  Nonetheless, Emma's mother is the busy head chief at the Hotel Paradise (my mother was always busy and left me to my own devices sometimes); her brother is a charming prankster who is best to avoid (my younger sister got away with murder); and her father has long passed (yeah, well not mine).  Like myself Emma kind of has herself, her intrusiveness, and her imagination.  With the exception of a handful of townies to help her along the way, she stood on her own resolve.  And it was Emma’s imagination, intrusiveness, and resolve that affixed her to the forty-year-old "accidental" murder of a woman named Mary-Evelyn.  See, many moons ago a local resident named Mary-Evelyn climbed aboard a small boat that lead her out onto the lake adjacent to the Hotel Paradise.  She never came home alive.  This is where Hotel Paradise takes off... but never quite lands...

Martha Grimes
There are several things that you have to kind of take note of before you begin reading Hotel Paradise. The first is that it’s not your conventional mystery at all. Apparently, Martha Grimes gets a little flack for this from some readers, and even I had trouble kind of calculating what she was attempting to do with the spread of her plot. So with that said, do not go into Hotel Paradise thinking this is a case of page-turning suspense. Not quite. Even with two murders for Emma to break her sleuthing teeth on. The book is leisurely. The investigation process is leisurely. The town(s) Emma tromps through is leisurely. However, what’s not leisurely is Emma’s wit and commitment. Nor is Grimes’s rich characterizations of the other townies, Emma’s nemeses, and the interesting theories surrounding her investigation. Those elements are opulent in details, and makes up the bulk of the book.  As they should, because even toward the end not a damned thing is resolved. Everything–and I mean everything–is up in the air. And you know what? I loved it like that!

Another aspect about this book that you should probably consider is that Hotel Paradise doesn't have a set location. You'll quickly realize that it’s a small town somewhere in America, even if it comes across as somewhere in the United Kingdom. Or some place specific like Keswick, Cumbria. But no. You’ll realize that it’s American, and mostly through the attributing dialogue. It still doesn't quite cover the feel of the story, though. Which brings up another allure within the book: there is no definition of time and/or age. The book was published in 1996. However, that doesn't mean a thing when it reads a touch like something Frances Hodgson Burnett [The Secret Garden] wrote in the early 20th century. It’s both a funny and haunting thing; and all part of Emma’s voice and the magic of a narrative that draws you into its world.

In closing, Hotel Paradise is not for everyone. Part of me wants to push recommending it, and another doesn't. What I can say is that if you like the traditional mystery set up, then you just may want to stay away. However, if you got time for a slow book with a great leading narrative (who is at her best because of her age), then Hotel Paradise just might work for you. Anyway, I can’t wait for book two, Cold Flat Junction.

Some of Emma

"...Why make a fuss about such a little thing? is always my mother's fuming response as she bangs around the pots and pans preparing to shut down for the night.  All she wants is some peace and quiet.  Well, I say, all I want is some white meat of chicken."

"I kept the butterfly box, which I'd made from a small carton that once held Hunt's tomato sauce, for I had gone to a lot of trouble making the plastic-covered window, and I might be able to use it for something else."

"I stood before the candy-display case looking at the lineup of Butterfingers and Necco wafers and keeping my own ears open.  When I left the kitchen, I remembered I'd want some money, so I crossed the grass to the other wing and went up to my room to collect some of my tips.  I took a dollar in change along, which I jiggled in my fist whenever Mr. Britten looked my way, just to let him know I was here on business and not to loiter like some other people I could mention."


  1. A great perspective for a plot that some readers may not be used to. Sometimes I think the writer only writes to certain people and it is fortunate that you got and received what she was trying to do. Thank you.

  2. Thank you! It's definitely a different style of mystery writing, but not totally unique.


Total Pageviews