If Books Were Snow-Cones

Even devotees of “great literature” sometimes indulge in tasty but less nutritious fare. The novels of Martha Grimes and Clive Cussler make a fun “amuse bouche” in between helpings of more substantial fare.


Tasty Snacking: Martha Grimes & Clive Cussler

I HAVE RECENTLY gone through a spate of what, for me, constitutes the equivalent of “beach reads”—books that you read just for the fun of it, knowing that they provide more amusement than edification or cause for reflection. Such books are the mental equivalent of buttered popcorn or snow cones, tasty but probably not good for you if taken in quantity. I find that, as with such junk food, after a couple of servings I lose my taste for such stuff and the thought of going back for another helping any time soon makes me feel a bit nauseous.

My recent “junk reads” of choice have been novels by Martha Grimes and Clive Cussler. Grimes writes British-style murder mysteries (although an American herself) that have come to occupy a prominent place in the subgenre of “cozies” (i.e., atmosphere and quirky characters predominate over plot and characterization), while Cussler’s brand of story-telling almost defies description—I suppose I would say his novels are action-adventure stories that rely heavily on maritime escapades and odd bits of ancient history. Cussler himself says:

I have never considered myself as much a writer as an entertainer. I’ve sincerely felt that my job was to entertain you the reader in such a manner that when you reached the end of the book you felt that you had got your money’s worth. . . . [I] believe you will find the novels a great summer reading escape and an everyday, any-day adventure.

I would say he has a keen understanding of both his audience and his literary product. Both Cussler and Grimes have produced long series that repeat the core cast of characters, making their books always familiar and cozy to return to, a pleasant intermezzo to a steady diet of more substantial reading fare. Too much of either at one time, however, would probably cause mental indigestion and rotting of the intellectual incisors.

[N.B. Clive Cussler died in February, 2020, at age eighty-eight, having produced more than eighty books which no doubt will continue to entertain readers for many more years. Martha Grimes, born the same year as Cussler, is still living and published her most recent novel, a Richard Jury mystery, in 2019.]

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