Chelsea Mansions
Barry Maitland
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Buy *Chelsea Mansions: A Brock and Kolla Mystery* by Barry Maitland online

Chelsea Mansions: A Brock and Kolla Mystery
Barry Maitland
Minotaur Books
384 pages
October 2012
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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If readers are willing to wade through a labyrinthine plot involving Russian spies both past and present, Maitland’s tale will be sure to capture. As the author unfurls yet another jagged assignment for Kathy Kolla and David Brock, I just wish someone had reigned Maitland in. His story unfolds in a volatile mix of murder and espionage, and I began to fill overwhelmed by the author’s vast seesaw of plots and counterplots.

The first pages establish a riveting scenario: seventy-year-old American tourist Nancy Haynes is deliberately thrown under a bus, her brutal murder taking place for no apparent reason. On holiday with her companion and accountant Emerson Merckle, Nancy had been interested in tracing her Scottish family roots. While in London, she and Emerson had intended to visit the Chelsea Flower Show.

Emerson tells tells Brock and Kolla that at the flower show, they noticed a man who seemed to be watching them; perhaps he was an admirer who been stalking Nancy. The couple was staying nearby at Cunningham Place, part of the Chelsea Mansions Hotel. Despite the hotel’s impeccable location, Kathy thinks it a rather gloomy place, its leafy gardens overwhelmed by seven-story red-brick terraces.

Was Nancy’s death a random act of violence or deliberate murder? According to MI5, she seems an unlikely terrorist target. Even though Nancy’s terrible fate remains unsolved, attention soon turns to the machinations of Russian billionaire Mikhail Moszynski, his celebrity wife, Shaka Gibbons, their business partner, Freddie Clarke, and Brock and Kolla’s silver-haired nemesis: Sir Nigel Hadden-Vane.

Moszynski has spent the last several years buying up Chelsea Mansions, earning the enmity of Toby Beaumont, owner of Cunningham Place, the only part of the Mansions that Mikhail has not been able to acquire. The fabulously rich Russian, his crazy mother, and his sinister son-in-law constantly making their presence felt. Beaumont views them as flagrant opportunists, preying upon those around them and using their money to spread a circle of corruption, at the heart of which squats that “poisonous toad,” Sir Nigel Hadden-Vane.

Meanwhile, Brock and Kolla face a rising threat that permeates every aspect of their investigation. Brock is blindsided by a health crisis, leaving Kathy to shoulder the burdens of the case, forced to battle an unforeseen catastrophe that turns the investigation on its head. From a house in Ferncroft Close, where a body becomes a grotesque effigy of a man, to a dying parent who tells old stories of love affairs and spies, something secret and terrible happened back in 1956 at the height of the Cold War.

After a tight beginning, Maitland's tale becomes a bit weighty and confusing, the plot throwing everything at us in a world riddled with underworld crime. There are lots of surprises but also a lot to unravel, and we have to work hard to slog through the considerable detritus of past twists and minor players that drive this the story to its vigorous resolution.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2011

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