There’s a lot going on between the covers of The Way of All Fish, Martha Grimes follow up to Foul Matter, her excellent satire on the publishing business and the New York writer’s scene. The hit men with high ethics, Candy and Karl, make a return appearance from Foul Matter along with some of the ego driven writers and publishers we first met in that book.
At the heart of the story is the antagonism between narcissistic publisher L. Bass Hess and writer Cindy Sella. Hess sued his former client for a commission from a book she wrote when he wasn’t representing her. What’s a girl to do but call up Candy and Karl to get things straightened out. As is always the case with these two particular hit men, they have to get to know the target before deciding if he or she deserves to be killed and therein lies all kinds of possibilities for plot lines and scenery changes. I’d venture to say, the story would make a pretty good movie in the right director’s hands. You’ve got your clown fish subplot, you’ve got your spooky Florida Everglades, you’ve got all kinds of writers with all kinds of problems and there’s even an aspiring young writer who works at a junkyard somewhere in or around New York. Just imagine the possibilities when transferred to the silver screen.
Through it all theirs is the subdued snark from Grimes that must be slightly embellished versions of things she’s gone through as she made her way through the bizarre cast of characters that make up the publishing gauntlet.
The Way of All Fishes is a good, entertaining read but, I found myself wanting to reread Foul Matter once again when I came across a phrase in the new book that reminded me of the old one. It just so happens that Foul Matter happens to be one of my favorite books and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve reread it. It’s a slightly calmer version of the new book that has a slightly more believable plot that moves between the more comfortable backdrops of New York and Pittsburgh and gives a more nuanced view into the world of the writer and their publishers. Having said all that, both books are well worth reading but, you might want to read Foul Matter first.
If you enjoy British mystery novels you should check out Grimes’s Richard Jury novels.