DARK MIRROR - Barry Maitland
Fans of Barry Maitland's Brock & Kolla series have had a wait on their hands. The last book - Spider Trap - was released in 2006, with a standalone book Bright Air in 2007. Leaving aside the eagerness with which we fans wait for the next book in a favourite series, there's also the slight nagging doubt always - has the wait been worth it?
In DARK MIRROR Kathy's been promoted and Brock seems to being forced away from front-line policing, more into administration. They are called into the investigation of the death of a beautiful young woman who dies horribly in the rarefied and beautiful surroundings of the London Library. Marion Summers has been researching a Pre-Raphaelite group of artists, wives and lovers circling around the Victorian artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The strange thing is that the poison that killed Marion is arsenic - once common in Victorian times, and particularly connected to one woman in Rossetti's circle. Not so common these days, and not so easy to obtain. The investigation soon finds that Marion is a woman who had things to hide, and sorting through the victim's own background and life proves nearly as difficult as identifying the murderer.
There's always been a strong sense of place in Maitland's books - he sets his action in London, and puts a lot of research into his locations, as well as the procedures and methods current in English policing. Part of the great attraction of DARK MIRROR is yet another quirky, unexpected location - the London Library is one of those delightfully idiosyncratic little private locations, tucked away in Piccadilly. A subscription only library, it is renowned for its central role in England's intellectual life, popular with both writers and readers. Marion's presence and work in this library provides a central focus for the investigation, and Kathy finds herself as intrigued with the circle that Marion has been building around Rossetti.
There is also a strong sense of the characters in these books - Kathy is a little unsure of herself since her recent promotion, and very wrong-footed by a most unexpected romantic attachment. Brock continues to serve as Kathy's main mentor, taking a more active role in directing the investigation as another young student dies of arsenic poisoning and Kathy struggles with an increasing tendency to identify with the victims. As confident as Brock is in his role as a policeman, he struggles as well with his personal life, and this investigation brings those two elements too close together for his comfort. With both central characters the touch of the personal isn't overpowering, but it does give the reader a chance to see a more human side of them both. That's nicely balanced against getting to know the victim, who Marion is and why she has maintained such control and secrecy over her own life creates a sense of connection with her that makes the investigation more poignant.
DARK MIRROR is everything that fans of this long-running series are going to enjoy, and the wait definitely wasn't wasted. Strong sense of an unexpected gem of a place (and another location from Maitland's London that you just want to see for yourself); a good police procedural with a touch of the personal; some moving on in the lives of the central characters; and a motive that's all too human and whilst sad, is also surprisingly cruel - it all just goes to remind the reader yet again about the futility of cold-blooded murder.
When Marion Summers - red-haired, beautiful and mysterious - collapses and dies in the rarefied surrounds of the London Library, DI Kathy Kolla and DCI David Brock are sent to head the investigation. Kathy finds a reluctant kinship with the fiesty Marion, who had, like Kathy, left a difficult home life when young and struck out to London for independence.
Marion's research on the intriguing, adulterous circle of artists, wives, lovers and muses around Victorian artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti seems irrelevant, until the use of arsenic arises. As Brock and Kolla get closer to the truth, another victim dies an excruciating death in a library, and it looks like a serial poisoner is on the loose.