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by Barry Maitland
Minotaur Books, October 2011
275 pages
ISBN: 0312600666

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Nancy Haynes has realized a dream. The seventy-year-old widow has come to London from Boston to the Chelsea Flower Show. It is easier to get a personal audience with the Pope than to get tickets, but Nancy has managed. Her friend and traveling companion, Emerson Merckle, is less enthusiastic but comes along.

Nancy has insisted on staying at the Chelsea Mansions Hotel, a rundown hostelry, rather than at the Hilton, Emerson's strong preference. Chelsea Mansions is run by two rather eccentric characters. Deb Collins and Toby Beaumont, who met in Africa during the Gulf War.

Nancy has mysteriously told Emerson she will inform him in good time her reason for wanting to stay at Chelsea Mansions. However, as they walk back to the hotel, Nancy is hurled to her death under a double-decker bus and Emerson is thrown to the ground. Very rapidly, it transpires that what first appeared as an unfortunate accident must have been the result of careful calculation.

Detectives Brock and Kolla are sent to investigate. Not long after they begin their inquiries, they are called to another murder in the garden across from Chelsea Mansions, an expatriate Russian millionaire, Mikhail Moszynski. Late at night, he had gone outside to smoke a cigar and was stabbed three times in the chest.

To complicate matters, Brock, who has neglected to get a flu shot, come down with a case of the virulent flu that is going around. Aware that he could be replaced as lead detective on the case if he is found out, he concocts a scheme -- with Kolla's reluctant aid -- to pretend that he has gone to Scotland to pursue leads in the Nancy Haynes case, since she was planning to go to Scotland on her visit to the UK.

Kolla gets some help from an interesting character, John Greenslade, an expert in Renaissance philology, who has come to England ostensibly to deliver a paper at a conference. He and Kathy strike up a friendship, and he proves of inestimable value in helping her solve the case.

Maitland is a master of characterization. He introduces Freddie Clarke, a financier who ultimately admits his manipulative practices for Moszynski, and Sir Nigel Hadden-Vane, a corrupt MP, who does everything in his power to sabotage Brock and Kolla's investigation.

The plot is an intricate web of threads - mistaken identities, searches for missing relatives, financial frauds, and dubious Russian connections. Past and present come together within the context of a meticulous police investigation. Like the previous ten entries in the series, each of which is set in a particular and different part of London, CHELSEA MANSIONS is intricately plotted and engaging.

Mary Elizabeth Devine taught English Literature for 35 years, is co-author of five books about customs and manners around the world and lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

Reviewed by Mary Elizabeth Devine, December 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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