"All My Enemies" by Barry Maitland: Book Review

"All My Enemies" by Barry Maitland
Minotaur, 298 pp., $13.99
Reviewed by David Marshall James

This third entry in Australian author (born in Scotland) Barry Maitland's Brock & Kolla series of detective thrillers fares rather nicely as a "stand-alone" novel.

There have been seven more Brock & Kolla books since, but this volume is the first American edition of this early installment in the group.

After completing special training, Kathy Kolla has joined her mentor, David Brock, as a detective in Scotland Yard's Serious Crime Division. She has scarcely run a scrub brush over her sublet-in-her-absence London flat when Brock (something of a father figure to the parent-less Kolla) summons her to a gruesome crime scene in one of the city's upper-middle-class suburbs.

A young woman, Angela Hannaford, who was still living with her parents while commuting to the city center for a secretarial job, has been repeatedly stabbed and methodically disfigured during her parents' brief vacation on the Continent. They discover the hideous crime scene upon their return, early one Sunday afternoon during an unseasonably hot, late summer in London.

Because the victim led such an ordinary, predictable life, the detectives quickly investigate the deceased's workplace, thereby yielding "a person of interest." Nevertheless, the forensic evidence doesn't stack up against him.

Kolla begins re-examining other similar, unsolved murders, and a series of similarities among them points toward an amateur theatrical troupe, in which Kolla becomes involved as a prompter for their latest production, August Strindberg's "The Father."

Meanwhile, several members of Brock's team experience domestic distractions. One young father is wrought up with his newly arrived first child, while another family man is suffering under the strain of a "monster-in-law."

Kolla herself is hardly immune from such woes, as her Aunt Mary has up and left her shmuck of a husband in Sheffield, sitting in his armchair with a whiskey beside him. At first, Kolla thinks her aunt might be going daft, but then realizes she is simply weighed down by an unrelenting past-- one that has crushed Kolla as well, beginning the day her father walked out on her and her mother.

Maitland's novel scores high marks on multiple fronts. He renders the setting far more than a backdrop; rather, it becomes a seemingly organic entity that sways, and often defines, the characters' actions.

Second, real life plays into the theatre, and vice-versa, as if life can almost be predicted as a never-ending performance of re-enacted melodramas. (The proverbial theatrical mirror is held up to reality, resulting in infinite reflections.)

The author presents a largely suburban world, one that is supposedly safe from the gritty cruelties of the less-desirable areas of the city. However, Maitland's suburbia is no more of a refuge than that "escaped reality" from which its residents strive to distance themselves.

As the lead player in the story, Kolla acts as an admirably tenacious young woman determined to give her all to her profession, while keeping her emotional baggage packed away.

"All My Enemies" hits par with Harlan Coben's "suburban thrillers"-- an attention-grabbing subway ride through the darkest pits of supposed havens.

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