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by Barry Maitland
Allen & Unwin, August 2003
313 pages
ISBN: 1741141419

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Scots born but spending his childhood in London, Barry Maitland read Architecture at Cambridge. Deserting architectural practice in favour of academe, the author took the Chair of Architecture at Newcastle University, N.S.W., so now Australia can proudly claim him as one of our own. Presumably finding his vegetable patch in the town of Maitland, outside Newcastle, insufficiently challenging, Maitland the author turned to writing crime fiction. One frequently hears of a book being released 'to universal acclaim' while the accuracy falls far short of the description. Not so with Maitland's first book The Marx Sisters, which was shortlisted for the John Creasey Award. Of his other books, The Malcontenta, All My Enemies, The Chalon Heads, Silvermeadow, Babel and now The Verge Practice. The Malcontenta won the 1995 Ned Kelly Award despite small-minded controversy surrounding the notion of a Scot writing books set in London winning an Australian (very new) prize.

Marx Sisters set the standard for Maitland's books, introducing London coppers DCI Brock and DS Kathy Kolla (I have never yet been able to ascertain if Kathy's name is a deliberate pun on her occupation.) True to his architectural background, Maitland invariably draughts an impeccable plot on which he builds an impressive structure of his novels. This latest outing for Brock and Kolla sees no lessening of his standards. In fact, for the first time Maitland has been able to give free rein to his knowledge of architectural business practices.

After Charles Verge, the near genius - or is he - architect returns from California, his partner, Sandy Clarke, picks him up from Heathrow and deposits him at his apartment. Verge is seen no more. The following Monday, during an important presentation to some Chinese, the body of his Japanese second wife is found, slain with great precision by a carving knife to the chest, Of Verge there is no sign although Sandy Clarke discovers and removes his own spectacles and pen from the bedroom of the apartment. Superintendent Dick Chivers is given the job of investigating the case.

Four months on and no solution to the case in sight, Brock, with his team of Kathy Kolla and Bren Gurney are given the hopeless task of solving the case. To add to the difficulties, Sgt. Kolla has been seconded to a committee so she is unable to devote her full time to the murder case. Brock does find some help from an unexpected quarter, the grandchildren of his lover Suzanne, who have assembled a case file - a helpful one at that - of their own.

Kathy's attention is diverted in part from the case because of problems in her relationship with physically beautiful pathologist Leon Desai as well as because of her responsibilities to the committee. Nonetheless, it is through her efforts that the case is solved, albeit unsatisfactorily. Be prepared, if it is at all possible, for a totally unexpected solution to the mystery.

There is quite a mix of characters in this book, apart from the usual team - the overbearing and arrogant, albeit crippled, mother of Charles Verge, a creepy, lizardlike retired Spanish plastic surgeon, some English tourists, an unpleasant pathologist, a colleague of Leon Desai's as well as the completely unwholesome and libidinous business partner of Charles Verge. The action - in which, as usual, Kathy Kolla finds herself in severe physical danger - alternates between England and Barcelona. While it would not be accurate to say all protagonists live happily ever after, Maitland has, as usual, with his excellently written prose and wonderfully crafted plot, left the reader eager for more.

Note: For Maitland fans, this book appears to be only available in Australia. You can buy it at www.allenandunwin.com or ask your favorite independent bookseller to order you a copy

Reviewed by Denise Wels, August 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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