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by R.T. Raichev
Constable, February 2010
224 pages
18.99 GBP
ISBN: 1849011222

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Major Hugh Payne is attending a regimental reunion luncheon at Claridge's Hotel when he catches a fellow diner, the somewhat loathsome Lothario, Jesty, in the act of spying on a couple, a young woman and an elderly man, in the foyer. Jesty tells Hugh that he has seen the young woman open the man's pill-box and substitute one pill for another one that she produced from her handbag. Certainly when the woman's eyes meet those of Hugh and Jesty she looks very guilty.

Following a little investigation Hugh discovers that the couple are in fact man and wife; the rich Sir Seymour Tradescant and his ex-model second wife Penelope. His interest and concern aroused, Hugh tracks Sir Seymour down to Mayholme Manor, a residential home for rich elderly gentlemen, presided over by the unctuous 'Master'. But Seymour takes the last of his pills with no ill effects; it is only later that he is found dead in his bath in suspicious circumstances. As they commence their investigations Hugh and Antonia soon discover that the young wife with the rich elderly husband is by far from being the only suspect. Seymour Tradescant was an unpleasant man who had a knack of making enemies, including his son, daughter-in-law and sister; not to mention the mysterious Dr Fairchild, a fellow resident at Mayholme Manor. And even when Hugh and Antonia have arrived at a solution, the question of proving it turns out to be even harder.

I fear that my reviews of R.T.Raichev's output tend to the repetitive. THE CURIOUS INCIDENT AT CLARIDGE'S has all the qualities which are present in spades in the Major Payne and Antonia Darcy series; excellent plotting, wit, charm, elegance, individuality (when one talks of elegance that is almost by itself enough to guarantee individuality among today's mystery writers as it is a rare commodity indeed). In this fifth book in the series there is a confidence and an ease which show that Raichev has truly found his voice. THE CURIOUS INCIDENT AT CLARIDGE'S is the best so far. I say this despite the fact that there is somewhat less of the post-modern japery which has been such a feature of previous books (and in which I revel). Having said this the last chapter, which is both an homage to a particular Christie short story, an excellent post-modern joke and a very neat conclusion, exemplifies Raichev's ability to operate on multiple levels, as it can be enjoyed at any or all of these levels (and I say that even though I have to admit it is not my favourite Christie conclusion).

The aspect of Raichev's writing which shows through most strongly in this particular book is the quality of the sub-plots and red herrings. Each of these and the characters involved in them can be appreciated for its own sake, so that even if you should for some reason fail to be diverted by the clever main plot, there is a host of stories and a gallery of strong characters to be enjoyed. My personal favourite is Seymour's sister the eccentric Bettina Tradescant who, like many of Raichev's most memorable creations, belongs to both past and present.

I have to issue my usual warning; this is not a book for everyone. If your tastes run to realism, to noir, to serial killers or Scandinavian gloom do not look for those things here. But there is a simple test. The very first chapter of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT AT CLARIDGE'S shows Raichev in full comic flow; either you will find this very, very funny (and love the Anthony Powell reference in the Chapter heading) or you will not. If you don't then even though there is still the elan and confidence of Raichev's plotting to be savoured, it is unlikely you will really appreciate the book, or indeed the series. If you do then you will have found a writer whose annual offerings are now a beacon of very individual wit, charm and elegance in the often murky landscape of contemporary mysteries.

Reviewed by Nick Hay, February 2010

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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