26 September 2023

The Russian Wife

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Reviewed by Robert Goodman.

By Barry Maitland, Allen and Unwin, $32.99.

With any much loved long running series, part of the joy is just checking in with familiar characters. And so it is with Barry Maitland’s 14th outing for Brock and Kolla – The Russian Wife which will not disappoint long running readers of this franchise.

The book is essentially two stories – a Brock plot and a Kolla plot, the two kind of come together in the end but not in anyway that connects them. After both retiring and being charged with murder, Brock is back on the force but has been shifted to the Fraud Squad, an area about which he knows very little being a homicide specialist. But his interest is piqued when the wife of a prominent art collector dies in an apparent suicide and there is some hint of art fraud in the mix. He uses the fraud aspect as a way to investigate the death but soon finds there is plenty of criminal activity relating to the art world behind the scenes. In the meantime, Kathy Kolla realises the solution to a locked room mystery lies with the police officer who was first on the scene but before she can put the screws on that officer she is arrested for corruption and then suspended. Not wanting to call on Brock for help, Kolla takes it on herself to prove that she is being framed.

As with all of the Brock and Kolla books, the main plot revolves around the investigators developing a detailed knowledge of some area of interest. In The Chalon Heads it was vintage stamps and in the more recent The Promised Land it was literary fraud. In The Russian Wife, the focus is on art fraud, the issues of provenance of art works and the nature and value of art. This issue not only is the subject of Brock’s investigation but, in a minor side plot, Brock is also trying to authenticate an art work gifted to him by the perpetrator of the first murder he ever solved. This gives Maitland the opportunity, through Brock’s art fraud colleague Molly, to school Brock (and the readers) in the issues that underly his investigation in a way that does not feel overly didactic.

The Brock and Kolla series always delivers solid procedurals and the main plot of The Russian Wife meets this expectation. The Kolla plot, while still leaning into those procedural elements and dealing with the interesting idea of police vigilantism, feels a little contrived, no more so than in its conclusion which feels like it was dropped in so that Maitland could get back to the main game. All in all, though, fans of the series, will find plenty to enjoy and an ending that promises that there is likely to be more Brock and Kolla in the future.

This and 700 more reviews can be found on Pile by the Bed.

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