Award-winning novelist Barry Maitland was born in Scotland, but grew up in London. Although he’s lived in Australia since 1984, Maitland takes us to a different London neighborhood in each of his police procedurals featuring Metropolitan police detectives David Brock and Kathy Kolla. Despite their age difference and relationships with other people as the series has advanced, the bond between the more experienced Brock and his acolyte Kolla has deepened, even as the younger woman’s strengths as an investigator have grown.
Auntie M’s readers know she follows this series, and Maitland’s two most recent novels won’t disappoint fans or newcomers. Both offer the ingenious plotting based on a solid framework that Maitland’s architectural background lends, one of his hallmarks. Perhaps credit should also be given to his great-grandparents skills as weavers. Whatever the source of his talent, Maitland’s main plot and subplots all hang together without becoming obtuse or unnecessary, even when characters from the personal lives of Brock and Kolla take the stage and become woven into the plot of the story.
His books also display extensive research into an area of obsession for that novel’s characters, so that readers learn about a subject important to the main personalities. It is to Maitland’s credit that this information forms a vital part of the story and yet keeps the reader intrigued, without lapsing into a travelogue or primer feel that would take away from the novel. Auntie M knows when she opens a new Brock and Kolla novel that her knowledge of a new area will be enriched as she follows the investigative trajectory.
Dark Mirror takes Brock and Kolla into the world of the Pre-Raphaelites, when a student has a seizure at the London Library and dies shortly after. Marion Sommers was a diabetic, but what seems to be a simple tragedy becomes the object of investigation when it is determined that the graduate student, an Ophelia-lookalike, died from arsenic poisoning. Was this a deliberate ingestion by a depressed young scholar, or the work of a devious murderer? Kathy Kolla has just been promoted to Detective Inspector of Scotland Yard’s Serious Crime Unit and holds herself up a role model for the younger members of her team. In her first big case she is determined to find the truth behind the death of the pretty student . With the help of DCI Brock and other members of their team, she begins to unravel the complicated story behind the young woman’s ties to a world where it was once common to use arsenic for a variety of household uses. Kolla is immediately thwarted in her investigation when she experiences difficulties finding the dead woman’s residence and next of kin.
When Kolla eventually finds Marion’s home and her family, both raise more questions than answers for the detective. Kolla tries to understand Marion and her work, exploring the world of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Lizzie Siddal, Janey Burden Morris, and the lesser-known Pre-Raphaelites who figure in Marion Sommers work. The detective is led to Marion’s faculty tutor, her research assistant, and eventually, to the killer of the young woman whose research threatened someone’s existence to the point of murder.
Just published in the US is Maitland’s newest offering, Chelsea Mansions, named for a residence block near one of the tourist highlights of London, the annual Chelsea Flower Show. Leaving the show, an American tourist is horrifically killed in what at first appears to be a random act of violence. When Brock and Kolla’s team investigate, they realize the killer has skillfully kept his face and his escape from the neighborhood from being captured on CCTV cameras mounted near the accident site. What appears to be a random act begins to feel like the planned, deliberate murder of Boston widow Nancy Haynes.
Before any resolution can occur, a wealthy Russian businessman is murdered in the garden across the street from Nancy’s hotel. Mikhail Moszynski’s lavish home encompasses the rest of the block where Nancy’s hotel is situated. As questions mount and the investigation heats up, Kathy becomes convinced the two killings are connected, just as Brock falls seriously ill and his survival is in question. With her professional life at stake, Kolla travels to Boston to explore Nancy’s background.
Maitland gets Boston just right and his subplots involving other characters showcase the author’s skill at devising a multi-layered story. He manages to coalesce threads concerning biological warfare, MI-5, a scurrilous MP we’ve met in a previous novel, Russian agents, and a Canadian university professor into a highly satisfactory conclusion which answers all the questions that have been raised, and all in a believable manner.
It is to Maitland’s credit that he started writing with the pairing up of a male-female protagonist team before it became fashionable. If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading Barry Maitland, Auntie M suggests you begin with the delightful series opener, The Marx Sisters, to follow the careers and private lives of the two detectives these eleven novels revolve around. But no matter in which order you read them, Barry Maitland’s novels, in the UK and Aussie idiom, go down a treat.