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Chelsea Mansions: A Brock and Kolla Mystery by Barry Maitland
Cover Artist: Photo: Neville Mountford-Hoare / Wildcard Images UK
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312600662
Date: 25 October 2011 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

In West London's district of Chelsea, there is a square of townhouses known as Chelsea Mansions; the townhouses have been converted into a hotel and the palatial residence of a wealthy Russian businessman, Mikhail Moszynski. An American tourist, Nancy Haynes, is staying at the hotel; while returning from the Chelsea Flower Show, she is thrown under a bus. Initially, Detectives David Brock and Kathy Kolla suspect her death is a random act of violence until, a few days later, Moszynski is found stabbed to death outside his home. How are the two murders connected? As the body count rises, Brock and Kolla are forced to dig deep into the past of Chelsea Mansions to uncover buried secrets that still haunt its residents. In the meantime, they also uncover startling truths about themselves.

Barry Maitland's highly enjoyable Chelsea Mansions is a treasure that I stumbled upon while searching for an interesting mystery. It is the first novel I have read in this highly acclaimed series and I could kick myself for not having discovered this series until now. I was quickly swept into the plot by Nancy Haynes' sudden, violent demise. Soon afterwards, Mikhail Moszynski is slain. By then, the plot had pulled me under and I couldn't escape. Murders begin occurring in rapid-fire procession in the present as well as in the past.

Chelsea Mansions is part noir, part historical mystery. A violent war crime in the past is compelling characters in the present to murder. At Chelsea Mansions, there are two families warring against each other. They consist of the hotel owner, Toby Beaumont, and his overly devoted staff of Gulf War Vets and the wealthy, eccentric Moszynski family. Mikhail employs two financial advisers: ingenious Freddie Clarke, who has a photographic memory, and the amoral Sir Nigel Hadden-Vane who has a fondness for prostitutes.

Chelsea Mansions is an extremely complex, multilayered mystery with numerous characters and subplots. Some readers may complain that the novel's plot is too complex and there are too many characters. I believe that this lends credibility to the story. There is an extensive amount of both police and medical procedures; the latter is due to the fact that there is a highly dangerous disease, the Marburg Virus, which kills one character and threatens many others. A great deal of state-of-the-art surveillance and forensic equipment is used to capture criminals. Also, there is a tremendous amount of research into past wars. Because Brock is bedridden with the Marburg Virus, most of the research is performed by Kolla with the help of her love interest, John Greenslade, a Canadian professor who is a forensic linguistics expert. Her determination to solve the mystery takes her to Boston, Massachusetts, to question Emerson Merckle, the friend who was with Nancy Haynes when she was murdered.

Big on plot and big on mystery, Chelsea Mansions has politics, economics, military, history and mystery. With plenty of murder, mayhem and drama to keep it fast paced, it is a totally engrossing read from beginning to end. It also has a suspenseful, nail-biting climax and a spooky ending that will haunt me for a very long time. Most importantly, Kathy Kolla and David Brock are both interesting, likeable detectives; however, it was difficult for me to ascertain how well they work together since Brock was ill for a great deal of the novel. Kolla was forced to not only cover for Brock's absence, pretending to everyone that he is Scotland, but to also take charge of the investigation. Fortunately, her teammates from the Metropolitan Police at Queen Anne's Gate are able to aptly assist her, especially Zack, the requisite computer geek. Endearing detectives, the unusual setting of a large, creepy residence, numerous murders and buried secrets make Chelsea Mansions a must read for all mystery fans.

Fans of historical mysteries and British police procedurals, who found the Chelsea locales and garden settings of Chelsea Mansions appealing, may also want to read Anthony Eglin's Garden of Secrets Past. When a professor of archaeology and art is found bludgeoned to death in the gardens of Sturminster Hall, botany professor Lawrence Kingston must decipher cryptic codes and delve into the seventeen hundreds to locate a buried treasure and prevent more murders. Chelsea Mansions leans heavily towards being a violent noir, whereas Garden of Secrets Past strongly resembles a cozy. However, both novels teach us that the past is never completely dead; it is constantly influencing events in the present.

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