Martha Grimes—an official Grand Master crime writer—has returned. After the author was “let go” from her longtime publisher, Knopf, she responded with a best-selling novel, Foul Matter (2003), that tackled (and tore apart) the publishing industry. Now in a sequel, The Way of All Fish, Grimes continues to eviscerate the rapidly changing publishing world with her quick wit and colorful cast of characters.
The Way of All Fish opens with novelist Cindy Sella having a very bad year. She’s paralyzed by debilitating writer’s block and is being sued by her former agent, L. Bass Hess, who will stop at nothing to ruin Cindy. While the lawsuit doesn’t have much basis (Cindy fired Bass long before he represented her most recent novel), it could drain her of all her time, energy and finances.
Enter hit men/amateur literary critics Candy and Karl, who first made their appearance in Foul Matter. Readers unfamiliar with that story might initially be put off by the speed with which Grimes dives back into its world. But it doesn’t take long to be amused by these Mafioso men, whose mission is not to snuff out Hess but to drive him to the point of insanity.
Still, The Way of All Fish isn’t just a takedown of a money-grubbing bad guy. It’s a clever romp from the Florida Everglades through the galleries in Soho all the way to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Whether Grimes is concocting hilarious scenes featuring the stoner crowd of novice writers, alligator wrestlers and junkyard managers that Cindy happens to befriend, or characterizing nitpicky authors analyzing every minute detail of their contracts (including the font size!), this novel is a madcap mystery packed with delight. Perhaps what’s most enjoyable is the author’s rampant criticism of the stereotypical days of publishing, when two-martinis lunches were the norm. “All of this lunchtime drinking,” Grimes ponders. “How did people manage to work?”