Barry Maitland, The Chalon Heads


Scottish-born but Australian resident Barry Maitland is one of the finest exponents of the modern detective duo currently working. His series with D.S. Kathy Kolla and D.C.I. David Brock contain a sumptuous cocktail of mystery and suspense with an erudite take on some aspect of social history, profession or pastime – in this the 4th in the series the pull is stamp collecting. The doyen of the whoddunit H R F Keating provided the appreciation.

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Scottish-born but Australian resident Barry Maitland is one of the finest exponents of the modern detective duo. His series with D.S. Kathy Kolla and D.C.I. David Brock contain a sumptuous cocktail of mystery and suspense with the bonus of an erudite take on some aspect of social history, profession or pastime.  Barry is also a canny observer of the crime scene in Europe and America, and has contributed appreciations of James Lee Burke and Carol O’Connell.

The first Maitland novel was The Marx Sisters (1994), published by Hamish Hamilton with a striking dust jacket.  The story was an investigation into a proposed property development in a backwater of central London called Jerusalem Lane, Clerkenwell involving the eviction of  two elderly sisters related to Karl Marx. It was called “unflaggingly lively and amusing” by Julian Symons.  This a puzzler with a nice modern flavour. The Brock/Kolla now has twelve episodes, always describe a distinct London neighbourhood and the author is particularly good at describing the atmosphere at each locale; the last being the Chelsea Mansions (2011).  This is the fourth book in the series.

Plotline: When Sammy Starling, a former London gangster with a passion for collecting, discovers his beautiful young wife is missing, he calls DCI David Brock for help. Ten years ago Starling’s evidence for Brock in a case of police corruption put a couple of cops away – now one of them is getting out. And getting even?  As this investigation proceeds, Brock is now the one under suspicion. His team is disbanded and DS Kathy Kolla is unwillingly reassigned. But now she needs to know what links Sammy Starling’s absorption in philately, her new boss’s obsession with two legendary forgers, and Eva’s disappearance. And how will Kolla ever find the answers to this puzzle of kidnapping, murder and revenge?

For fans of the whodunnit this is a fine entry in our series. It was well reviewed with Kirkus remarking that it was “the most satisfyingly twisty mystery of the year”. It was a delight to have the doyen of  the whodunnit, H R F Keating provide an appreciation.

5.00 out of 5

2 reviews for Barry Maitland, The Chalon Heads

  1. 5 out of 5

    Rating by Kirkus Reviews on July 20, 2012 :

    Chief Inspector David Brock has nothing but bad memories of Sammy Starling, the petty crook he helped build a case against years ago. But now it seems that Sammy’s in legitimate trouble—his aristocratic young wife Eva has been kidnapped—and he’s afraid to go for help to Brock’s colleagues in the Serious Crimes Branch, whom he implicated in a bribery scheme in order to get himself off. So Brock, along with Sgt. Kathy Kolla, agrees to help Sammy himself. And in no time at all, this simple case of abduction has exploded in every imaginable direction. The ransom for Eva turns out to be an auction lot consisting of a single stamp depicting the young Queen Victoria, a stamp that may well fetch a million pounds when Cabot’s, the dealer handling the sale, puts it on the block. Sammy, a collector of similar stamps ever since he noticed the uncanny resemblance between the idealized queen and his young wife, succeeds in submitting the winning bid for the stamp. But nothing from that point on goes according to plan, from the ransom drop to the recovery of the victim, and soon everyone involved in the case is under suspicion in an ever-widening net of forgery, fraud, and murder. Since the everyone this time includes Brock himself, the wily old fox finds himself sidelined, and Kathy transferred to the Fraud Squad, where she’ll have to survive on her own considerable wits.

    The third and finest case so far for this underrated pair of coppers (The Malcontenta, 2000, etc), and the most satisfyingly twisty mystery of the year. Kirkus

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rating by H.R.F. Keating on July 21, 2012 :

    Extract of the Appreciation by H R F Keating

    What have we here, Watson? Great Scott, Holmes, it’s an old- fashioned detective story. Acute as ever, Watson, but one piece of data has escaped you. I hardly think so, Holmes. Why, yes, Watson, you have seen, though you do not appear to have observed, that the facts as laid out in Maitland’s narrative as well as the attitudes of the characters he portrays are altogether of the late 1990s. Excellent, cries Watson. Elementary, Holmes replies. But Watson, or the down-to-earth Watson inside every high-flying Holmesean crime critic, did get the fundamental point right. The Chalon Heads is essentially a detective story in the good, old way. And none the worse for that. The literary genre that was encoded in ten fierce commandments in the late 1920s by Monsignor Ronald Knox was, and is still, a valid way of putting a novel into the minds of readers. Curiously, the very best way of securing a supply of this sort of detective story appears to be by sending Britons of academic inclinations off to Australia. Michael Innes went there to lecture in English and sent back Death at the President’s Lodging, first of a stream of delightful detection. Robert Barnard went there, also as an English lecturer, and back came Death of An Old Goat, first of many deliciously clever whodunits. Barry Maitland went there to a post as Professor of Architecture and in 1994 we got The Marx Sisters, hailed by Julian Symons as ‘unflaggingly lively and amusing’. So now we have the fourth in his series featuring Detective Sergeant Kathy Kolla, and Detective Chief Inspector Brock, ‘the legend of the Yard’, with, helpfully hovering as ever, Dr Sundeep Mehta, pathologist. P D James, modern master of the updated genre (despite not having lectured in Australia), once succinctly stated what it has to do to achieve success. ‘There is needed,’ she said, ‘a central mystery, a circle of suspects, an egregiously talented detective and a solution which the reader could arrive at by a process of logical deduction from clues which were presented to him with deceptive cunning but with essential fairness.’ The Chalon Heads has all of these . . .

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