Questionable art and murder galore

POLAR
The Russian Woman
Barry Maitland
Allen & Unwin, $32.99

Chief Detective Inspector Brock is in a bad mood. After failing to retire, he went from homicide to fraud where, to his chagrin, his colleagues sit in front of their screens all day “following money trails around the world”. His former protege, Kathy Kolla, who is now DCI herself leading a homicide squad, tries to cheer him up with her own murder mystery in a locked room. But that’s not enough for Brock, he needs more to keep him busy than white-collar crime and the state of his leaky roof and dodgy gutters.

Barry Maitland’s two DCIs first appeared in his novel The Marx Sisters in 1994. Credit:Edward Cross

That’s the premise of Barry Maitland’s latest procedural featuring the fearsome team of Brock and Kolla, who have navigated successfully through a sea of ​​trouble since their first outing in The Marx sisters in 1994. This time they work on separate cases with Maitland switching between the two as he overlaps the plot.

As Kathy’s mystery evolves into a case that confronts her with ethical issues involving domestic violence and her own romantic past, what begins for Brock as a routine scam email quickly escalates into an investigation involving multiple murders. , art fraud and dubious Russian. identities.

As always there is Maitland’s exquisite attention to place as Brock navigates between the elegant Georgian residence of wealthy corporate lawyer Julian Babington and the grim Hoo Peninsula on the Thames Estuary where the body of the Babington’s beautiful Russian wife, Nadya, is discovered in a pond. Suicide is suspected, but Brock has second thoughts. For starters, there’s Nadya’s emotional investment in restoring the nearby Saxon Church of St Chad, then there’s her hulking ex-husband and drug-addicted son.

A complicating factor is the fact that Babington has one of the most important collections of 20th century art in private hands. Acquired by his father and grandfather, it includes a small collage by German artist Kurt Schwitters, which Brock immediately recognizes as he owns one too. Maitland perfectly blurs the line between fiction and reality: Schwitters’ collages do exist and are highly prized.

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Brock’s Schwitters becomes the justification for a fascinating excursion into the question of the provenance and authentication of art. Invaluable information on these questions and more is provided by the excellent Molly Fitzgerald, art and antiquities specialist at the Fraud Squad. Soon Brock, with Molly’s encouragement, flies to Hanover to authenticate his collage with the experts at the Sprengel Museum.

Art and authenticity are the key themes here as Maitland, an accomplished painter himself, explores the machinations of the art world. As Brock finds out, there’s a lot at stake for Babington and his collection, but it’s not just about the money. Maitland is in great shape here and Brock and Kolla are obviously still very active in crime solving.

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