Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Emma Graham, Once Again

I have never laughed out loud so much during a book until now.

Cold Flat Junction is book two in Martha Grimes’s portrait-esque Emma Graham mystery series. It runs in direct conjunction with the first book, Hotel Paradise. Well, to be precise, just about a week or two in narrative time made up the difference. Therefore, twelve-year-old Emma Graham is still present and strong; decorated in her usual witty, stubborn and cheeky ways. She’s also still obsessing about a 40-years-past “accidental” drowning of a girl her age, as that was the mystery that led her from Hotel Paradise and into its somewhat conclusion in Cold Flat Junction. Tack in another, recent murder (that was also introduced in Hotel Paradise), and Emma is on her Nancy Drew-ish way. Let her tell it, but nobody can convince her that the two murders are not connected.

As always, Emma employs her quick-witted wordsmith abilities to elicit the help of several residents of her town to assist her in her investigation. Dwayne Hayden, the auto mechanic and squirrel poacher, has a shotgun handy; therefore, he’s in top order for Emma to maneuver into bodyguard status. Sheriff Dehgan, Emma’s under-recognized mentor, is back and a little more distant from Emma. This distance worries her, but the truth is that she’s the one keeping secrets (some of those secrets are criminal offenses like obstruction of justice). The eccentric back wood-dweller, Mr. Root, is back to uselessly guide Emma through places she doesn't belong. And on a softer, funnier note, Mrs. Bertha is still complaining about Emma’s ability to be a good Hotel Paradise waitress and cook. Oh, and I couldn’t forget to mention Aunt Aurora, who resides in the fourth floor of the Hotel Paradise. Per standards, Emma continues to pump information out of the irate old lady with a mix of alcoholic drinks used to loosen her mean but venerable tongue.

Ah, I love this atmospheric town and its cast of bright, vivid characters.

Emma pulls hardly any stops as she sets on her quest to find the answers related to the two murders that surround the Hotel Paradise and its history. Hedged with the awareness that she require adults to help her along the way, you can’t help but to admire her captivating charm (as a reader as well as for the supporting characters). However, behind all of that charm and wit, you may also feel the loneliness she emanates. Nonetheless, where Hotel Paradise left matters on somewhat of a cliff-hanger, Cold Flat Junction ties down a few answers, but builds even more questions for Emma and her crew.

Final thoughts…

Let me go ahead and get straight to the point. Cold Flat Junction kind of drug in the last quarter of the book. By that time, even Emma’s spunky personality couldn’t stop the ennui I felt from her repetitious need to continue visiting adults under false pretenses so that she could chip information out of them. It was fun, cute, and clever the first 20 times, and then it got a little too "run of the mill." No doubt that she managed to gather her clues, but there came a point where I needed the mystery to push forward. (It also didn't help when several chapters were dedicated to her spending time alone, fantasizing about a trip to Florida.) But seriously, Emma would recycle her way through pumping some of the same characters for information. However, I must say that this deductive means of investigation seemed a lot more organic and appropriate when you consider the mystery is told through a twelve-year-old girl. Still, toward the end of the book, I'd had my fill and wanted to move along to the end. I don't believe I'm the only one who felt this way.  And also, some readers may grow tired not from the cycling interviews, but more from the point that Emma was always sticking her nose in adults’ business.

Grimes herself.
And that’s kind of where I also realize how some readers may have another problem regarding Emma and the storytelling.  See, there are instances where Emma sort of sermonizes her dislike in adult characters that treat her… well… like the adolescent she is. I don't think I was as smart (though I was adventurous) as Emma when I was twelve, but how she managed to find the right words to discredit those who look over her seemed learned through her ever, secretly candid mother. And I say that whether Emma is accurate or not in her assessment of said adults. Nonetheless, in essence, Emma gathered her guts and ability to criticize adults from her mother; therefore, her doing so didn't bother me at all.  It's only natural. However, I could see in places where it would bother someone to watch this girl stand up for herself, however misguided (or not) she may appear.

Take this scene:

Perhaps recalling that I was alive, Mrs. Davidow said to me, “You won’t mind keeping an eye on things here, will you?”

“Yes,” I said.

For some reason they thought this answer was amusing and laughed.

In retrospect, I think the adults treated Emma like she was younger than even twelve.

Like this moment:

I guess he was making fun of me, but I would ignore that. “Listen: I could meet you out there at Brokedown House. But you’d have to promise that you’d come.”

[Dwayne Hayden] screwed his face up in the most utter surprise I’d ever seen, except when Will [her brother] was playing innocent. “Promise? You’re talking like you’re doin’ me a favor.”

I shook my hands in impatience. “Well, but will you?”

He paused for some moments, watching me and probably thinking I was crazy. A crazy kid.

I busted into laughter during this scene and many more, nowhere near phased by Emma's attitude.

All in all, I give Cold Flat Junction a solid five stars. It’s not for everyone. It’s not a traditional mystery per se. Hell, even the end was slightly (and I stretch this lightly the world over), dubious. I kind of felt like Grimes didn't give enough clues to shape the sudden appearance of a particularly character. Okay, I tried so hard to keep that last statement as spoiler-free as possible. Even so, man do I love Emma Graham’s voice, the atmosphere, the characters, and Grimes's picturesque writing ability. I feel so lucky to already have the next two books willing and waiting for me to dive back in.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Total Pageviews