CHELSEA MANSIONS - Barry Maitland
With any long term series, it's not surprising to see an author rejigging the relationships just a little, bringing in new perspectives or adjusting the expectations. CHELSEA MANSIONS is the ninth Brock and Kolla book from Barry Maitland, and in the last book there were hints that there is a little viewpoint modification going on. It's always particularly interesting to watch how various authors move their long-term characters in and out of the limelight, particularly when you have an inherent seniority built in, as you have in a police pairing. Maitland seems be carefully repositioning Kathy Kolla - pulling her more to the centre and he's doing it cleverly. Brock isn't sidelined, more ... shall we say ... distracted. And in CHELSEA MANSIONS he's extremely distracted. In fact a sudden and very dramatic health crisis means he's completely distracted by the real prospect that he may not survive.
Kolla is under pressure, not just because she's worried about Brock, but also because there's something very odd going on with her current investigation. The reason why somebody would actually pick up and throw an elderly American tourist under a bus in Chelsea is completely elusive. The connection between the brutal death of Nancy Haynes and that of a Russian oligarch living in the same building as the hotel that Nancy and her companion are staying in equally elusive. As is the reason that Nancy was so insistent about staying at this particular, quirky and not particularly upmarket hotel in the first place. To say nothing of the young Canadian man hanging around the same hotel.
One of the quirks of Maitland's books is the settings that he uses for the main component of the action in his books. In this case, this small square, with it's row of houses - part of which is the hotel, the rest of which has been progressively turned into a massive townhouse by our Russian victim Mikhail Moszynski. Not just a setting, this area because an intricate part of the plot itself as is often the way. As is also often the way Kolla's investigation is characterised by her dogged determination. Brock's part in the investigation is more thoughtful, cerebral, intuitive. Along the way there's some nice touches of the personal, and there's a bit of professional skullduggery just to make everyone's lives more complicated than they need to be.
Whilst it's undoubtedly partially that feeling of getting back in touch with old friends that always makes the arrival of a new Brock and Kolla book a satisfying experience, in the last few entries in this series, there's that sense of rejigging, just a gentle little jostling of positions to add a little spark. But at the end of the day, the best part about CHELSEA MANSIONS is that it IS a new Brock & Kolla novel, and it's a very good entry in which is really an extremely solid and keenly anticipated series.
When Nancy Haynes, an elderly American tourist, is brutally murdered in a seemingly senseless attack after visiting the Chelsea Flower Show, DI Kathy Killa suspects there is more to the case than first appears. When another occupant of the palatial Chelsea Mansions is murdered hot on the heels of the first - but this time a Russian oligarch - everybody wants to get involved.
Is it a Litvinenko-style KGB assassination? The spooks muscling in certainly think so. Are the murders linked? Or is Nancy's death just the result of mistaken identity? Kathy is determined to dig deeper, but comes up against walls of silence. If she persists, does she risk her career - and possibly more? DCI Brock, meanwhile, faces the fight of his life as his past comes back to haunt him.
A crime long buried, a deadly African virus, and some of the most resourceful criminals Brock and Kolla have ever faced, conspire to make this Maitland's best mystery yet.