Martha Grimes was about to have her picture taken, so she walked to get her hair done at a salon near her Capitol Hill home. Grimes explained to a stylist as she was leaving, “I have an interview with USA Today.”
“As good as you look,” the stylist said, “you’ll get the job.”
Grimes loves this story. The internationally known mystery writer goes all but unrecognized around Washington—which is fine with her.
She has written 30 books, including eight New York Times bestsellers such as The Grave Maurice. Her worldwide sales are about 5 million. Yet when Grimes, who has lived 23 years on Capitol Hill, puts pen to notebook in Pennsylvania Avenue coffeeshops—she writes in longhand—no one realizes she’s the author of the popular Richard Jury novels.
The author, 77, grew up in Pittsburgh and western Maryland, where her mother was part owner of a hotel; her father died when Martha was six. She attended the University of Maryland, studied to be a poet, married and had a son, taught for 15 years at Montgomery College, divorced, and saw her first mystery turned down a dozen times before its 1981 debut.
Grimes makes almost as many appearances for animal-welfare groups as she does to sign books. “I do Q&As, not readings,” she says. “Hell, they can read the books themselves.” A vegetarian since 1975, she has woven slaughterhouses, puppy mills, and rabbit labs into plots—in her latest, Dakota, the protagonist infiltrates a pig farm—and has donated some of her royalties to animal-welfare groups.
Grimes has been remodeling a house in Bethesda; her DC place, stacked with mysteries, is now a pied à terre. She’s lived alone since an aged cat died last year, but in Bethesda she plans to have a dog. “My black cat was named Blackie,” Grimes says. “If I get a dog with a big spot, you know what I’ll name it.”
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This article appears in the August 2008 issue of Washingtonian. To see more articles in this issue, click here.