"Chelsea Mansions" by Barry Maitland: Book Review

"Chelsea Mansions" by Barry Maitland
Minotaur, 375 pp., $25.99
Reviewed by David Marshall James

Some places never give up their deep, dark secrets.

Sometimes, however, a seemingly inconsequential incident-- perhaps the visitation of a seemingly innocuous person-- may tip a row of dominoes, as it were, resulting in a chain reaction that brings a house of secrets tumbling.

Such is the case with Chelsea Mansions, a row of imposing brick townhouses lining one side of a fashionable square at the intersection of some posh London postal codes.

The visitor in question-- a septugenarian Bostonian ostensibly in residence at a gone-to-seed hotel in Chelsea Mansions because of its proximity to the Chelsea Flower Show-- comes to a gruesome end, garnering the attention of a special crimes unit in New Scotland Yard headed by Chief Detective Inspector David Brock.

Devotees of Australian (by way of the U.K.) author Barry Maitland's Brock & Kolla series know that the CDI's protegee-- attractive, though most unlucky-in-love Detective Inspector Kathy Kolla-- will be involved in the investigation.

Moreover, she will soon come to lead it herself, as Brock is laid low.

It's a sticky wicket of an ordeal for Kathy, including interference from all sorts of muckety-mucks in politics and international intrigue, including figures at Britain's intelligence agencies, MI5 and MI6.

All this over a little old lady who's come to London to look at the flowers?

Well, the other structures constituting Chelsea Mansions have all been bought by an insanely wealthy Russian expat who has married a celebrity model-- an East Ender who has catapulted to fame by virtue of cheek and cheekbones.

Her older spouse has gutted all the attached buildings in Chelsea Mansions (save for the seedy hotel, and what's up with the odd lot of staff there?), hoping to create a sense of sweep by sweeping away the past.

As if. When walls and ceilings crumble, all the better for secrets to come to light.

Brock and Kolla soon encounter another murder at Chelsea Mansions, while Kathy becomes the focus of attention of a young Canadian professor determined to insinuate himself into the investigation.

What's his angle?

This latest B & K mystery proves as minutely detailed as others in the series; indeed, even moreso. The author's knowledge of forensics and the latest implements in crime-fighting technology brings an impressive authority to a riveting story in which the present hinges precipitously upon the past.

Maitland's theme of voyeurism, via security cameras and database tracking, adds a compelling Hitchcockian element to the story.

It would appear that London is certainly the place to be seen, whether one wishes it or not.

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