Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve
Thrillers, that supremely popular of fiction genres, produce such an array of title that a book must be outstanding in order to captivate the discerning reader. Barry Maitland has written more than a dozen books which mostly feature David Brock and his respected colleague, Kathy Kolla. From The Marx Sisters, his first, they never fail to satisfy the criteria for a good crime thriller.
The Russian Wife is no exception. As usual, it has a London background and is not connected to espionage as the Russian allusion might suggest, but there is the death of a young beautiful woman in a bleak section of the Thames estuary, her husband a charming lawyer and owner of the finest private art collection in the UK. There is also a troubled talented artist and, in addition to further murders, both Kathy and Brock face personal challenges. In her pursuit of a suspicious death that implies a domestic violence situation, her future as a detective comes under serious threat.
There is no mention of the pandemic. Julian Babington, the lawyer, flies freely from London, Hanover, Miami and New York. No allusion to any of the situations so familiar to us now. It presents a world that offers a temporary escape from our everyday.
It was fascinating to learn of the German artist Kurt Schwitters who was a significant member of the Merz movement prior to World War II. In early work, he created canvases that were collages of found objects which are outrageously valuable today. It might seem that to forge such works is quite straightforward. However, scrupulous investigation of their provenance will expose the fraud. Information about the complexities of the international art world is skillfully slipped into the novel. Our knowledge gained then adds an extra frisson to the suspense.
Initially, I thought the resolution of Kathy’s predicament was both surprising and a little too slick. When more carefully considered, though, I have to concede that from various viewpoints, it was probably the best solution possible.
Barry Maitland grew up in London but came to live in Australia in 1984. Four of his novels have an Australian background but it is the Brock and Kolla mysteries set in London that have enhanced his reputation. It is rumoured that this is the final of their exploits. Many devotees hope this Is unfounded.
David Brock as a character is not plagued by problems with his marriage or his drinking. Rather, he emerges as an experienced, honest, reliable and dedicated detective respected by his colleagues. His relationship to Kathy is one of a good friend and fellow policeman, loyal and caring in a strictly platonic way.
Kathy lives alone and is regarded as a good detective which makes the corruption charge against her deeply shocking and the path to extracting herself fraught and near impossible.
The Russian Wife is a thriller that is difficult to put down. Readers are assured of a plot that is engrossing and cleverly devised. It is made more gripping by the realities of the Art world, greed and passion and the drive to unravel the intricacies of the plot.
Without doubt, it is an excellent way to spend some relaxing holiday hours.
The Russian Wife
by Barry Maitland
Allen and Unwin
ISBN 978 17608 7964 8