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Murder at the Villa Byzantine: An Antonia Darcy and Major Payne Investigation by R.T. Raichev
Review by Mel Jacob
Soho Constable Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781569479148
Date: 19 April 2011 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

R.T. Raichev newest mystery, Murder at the Villa Byzantine, features the husband and wife team of Antonia and Payne investigating the beheading of a Bulgarian woman, Stella Markoff. Police suspect her strange teenage daughter. Moon, the girl, has a fixation with blood and violence and a handkerchief found at the scene had the initials MM. She implores Payne to help her prove her innocence.

Stella had been working with Tancred Vane, an author, and her body was found in his study. He is working on a biography of Prince Cyril of Bulgaria and Stella had letters from her grandmother containing relevant information. Vane had tried to buy them, but Stella rejected his offer.

Antonia writes mysteries and Payne is a former intelligence officer with a fondness for puzzles and literary quotes. Murder suspects abound such as the jilted actress once engaged to Stella's fiancÚ, Vane, Miss Hope an elderly lady sharing memories of Cyril with Vane, the fiancÚ, and Moon, the daughter. Vane has a strange relationship with Miss Hope, which becomes more convoluted as the investigation continues.

Antonia and Payne approach solving the murder as more of a logic puzzle than a physical effort. They gather bits and pieces of information and gradually the right picture emerges. Neither of them puts themselves in harm's way although Antonia comes closer to it than does Payne.

The novel has a distinctly English tone similar to Jill Paton Walsh who has written several recent mysteries based on Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey, the most recent The Attenbury Emeralds. Raichev wrote a dissertation on English mystery novels between the wars, so the resemblance isn't surprising. Literary allusions and quotes abound.

This is the sixth adventure of Antonia Darcy and Major Paine. The others were published as the Country House Mysteries.

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