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by R.T. Raichev
Constable , April 2009
224 pages
18.99 GBP
ISBN: 1845295366

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Toby Leighton is a retired Appeal Court judge who's comfortable rural life is a sham, as his life has been torn apart by the behaviour of his daughter Ria. Ria has rebelled against her father's values and taken that rebellion to extremes; she has become a high-class escort and is now living in Goa, the mistress of an Indian gangster. Toby's wife Lucasta, Ria's step-mother, is herself going frantic with worry about the stress which Ria's letters, apparently describing her exploits in some detail, are having on Toby; her concern is fully justified when Toby has a heart attack. In Goa meanwhile, Sarla Songhera, wife of Ronan, the gangster with whom Ria is living, has resorted to bizarre spell-casting in an attempt to kill her hated rival from a distance. When Antonia Darcy and Hugh Payne arrive in Goa with Charlotte Depleche, who is considering buying a luxurious villa from Ronan, they have no idea that they are going to be drawn into the maelstrom Ria has created, which will involve two murders.

THE LITTLE VICTIM is R.T. Raichev's fourth book in the Antonia Darcy and Major Payne series. Last year I reviewed ASSASSINS AT OSPREYS, his third, and many of his characteristic trade-marks are displayed in this book; I will therefore take the self-indulgent liberty of quoting myself to indicate those characteristics briefly... "It is quirky, mannered, allusive, witty, literary and manages the paradoxical feat of being both old-fashioned and post-modern. If your interests are any kind of realism then look elsewhere. The book is old-fashioned in that belongs very self-consciously in one strand of the Golden Age tradition - the witty, literary one represented at its apogee by Michael Innes." I should at this point issue the disclaimer that since this review I have become, to my great pleasure, a regular correspondent with the author and look on him as a cyber-friend; I hope however that this has not affected my judgement. Having now read all of Raichev's work I am certainly in a position to say that THE LITTLE VICTIM is his best so far.

The most obvious reference points here are those Golden Age works set 'abroad', notably those of Christie - DEATH ON THE NILE, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA (the last is specifically and very amusingly discussed by Antonia and Hugh here); Christie features strongly in the ever-amusing and allusive (and misleading) chapter titles. But it is important to emphasise that Raichev's books, including this one, are in no sense pastiches. They all have at their heart vibrant stories and intricate plots which function in their own right. Here the story and plot are his strongest so far. If anything indeed one would wish for a little more playfulness. Nor are all the allusions to Golden Age mystery fiction. One would need to be very well-read and well-informed indeed to pick them all up. But to take one example, we have here a down-at-heel private detective (he was employed by Toby to spy and report on Ria) who could have stepped from the pages of Graham Greene. As with every character Raichev plays a delicate game of approaching the stereotypical, but with all the important characters at least, there is always some redeeming quirk, some particularity, which saves him from falling into the trap and instead leaves a series of delightful vignettes which stay with the reader.

Another characteristic of Racihev's work which I failed to properly identify in my first review, but which is always present to a greater or lesser degree is a certain Gothic quality. Madness is never far from the surface. This is extremely tricky to handle and in none of the first three books, for all their other qualities, was I quite sure that he had got this right. Here however he has in my view finally cracked it. And nowhere more so than in the conclusion, which is indeed a Gothic nightmare of the highest quality .

It is necessary to reiterate that Raichev is not an author for everyone - particularly those who like their mysteries on the grimy side of realism. However if you value wit, playfulness, strong plotting, excellent writing, vivid characterisation and Gothic invention then he is an essential read. THE LITTLE VICTIM is his best work to date and that means it is very good indeed.

Reviewed by Nick Hay, April 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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