Barry Maitland, “No Trace”

Maitland is new to me. This is another book I bought because of its cover — note to publishers of murder mysteries, bring on the moody black and white images, relevance to plot be damned. Apparently Maitland is launched on a series involving these Scotland Yard detectives, David Brock and Kathy Kolla. Apparently also St. Martin’s/Minotaur isn’t doing much to push them, because there’s very little sales apparatus on the Amazon website — earlier books don’t even have jacket photos, there’s no Kindle edition, no review, not even reader reviews.  Pretty sad. It’s not a great book, but it’s respectable, and genre addicts need their fixes. It takes a heck of a lot longer to write these things than it does to read them, so it’s a pity the publishers don’t know how to find us. 

Respectable but not great, I have to say. I suppose the model here is Deborah Crombie or Elizabeth George, straight-up contemporary police procedural involving male DCI and female DS. Only they have no personalities. They’re utterly flat. The book is ingeniously plotted but Maitland is so cursory with the characterization that at first the narrative had a strange choppy rhythm, as we moved from consciousness to consciousness without — this is difficult to express — ever feeling grounded. I think that’s what I mean. Here’s an example: late in the book Kathy Kolla visits the Soane Museum in London to follow up on a clue. She has a conversation with a guide  in the course of which essential information is imparted. Yet the guide is described only as “an elderly, impish man” and not named. That’s an opportunity lost.  Think of the nifty pen portraits we get from writers like Crombie and George, who manage to flesh out even the most fleeting presences in their books.  

The dialogue isn’t bad, and the description of place is pretty good. Lots of moaning about Yard bureaucracy (standard for contemporary UK and Italian mysteries) which ties neatly into the plot. Plot concerns pretentious idiocy at a Shoreditch art gallery. This stuff works very, very well. Nice sardonic view of art that includes, for instance, a “piece” called “Dead Puppies” that involves just that.  Clever.

About carolwallace

I spend most of my time writing and reading. Most recent publications: the reissue of "To Marry an English Lord,"one of the inspirations for "Downton Abbey," and the historical novel "Leaving Van Gogh." I am too cranky to belong to a book group but I love the book-blogging community.
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