Fans of Martha Grimes’ Richard Jury series are well-acquainted with the Girl: a self-sufficient, self-possessed preteen who suddenly materializes to captivate Jury, perhaps nudge him in the right detecting direction, only to fade into the background before the last page is turned. Did Jury imagine her or did we?
Grimes’ intermittent Emma Graham novels have brought this preternaturally wise child to flesh in a series of evocative (of what time period, it’s hard to tell), leisurely thrillers. It’s been four years since the third installment, Belle Ruin, but mere weeks since 12-year-old Emma was “near murdered” investigating past and present deaths in Spirit Lake, the far-western Maryland resort town that almost “tips into West Virginia.” As usual, tenacious Emma has not been fazed by her recent ordeal-by-gunpoint and works her status as local celebrity and star reporter for the town newspaper to continue her inquiries into the unresolved mysteries on her turf, particularly the alleged kidnapping of Baby Fay 20 years prior. The cold case reopens itself when the infant’s father, Morris Slade, and a charming (to all but Emma) stranger show up almost simultaneously.
Shades of Richard Jury, Emma, too, encounters the Girl, a young someone resembling one of the dear departed, and wonders if her vision is real. To find the truth behind both the Girl’s appearance and the baby's disappearance, Emma shuttles between her detective work and her duties as waitress at her mother’s down-at-the-heels hotel and bartender to her great-aunt Aurora, with frequent stops at the Rainbow Café and the Windy Run Diner.
As in Hotel Paradise, Cold Flat Junction and Belle Ruin, Fadeaway Girl takes its own sweet time getting to the most recent crime and its resolution (if the loosely wrapped-up ending can be called that). It’s Emma—surrounded by adults, yet independent of them—who captivates us, with her insights as well as her innocence.
She is no Fadeaway Girl and this still-spinning story leaves no doubt that she will be Back.