A research student collapses and dies in the London Library, vomiting and going into seizures. It appears that the cause of death is arsenic poisoning.
Marion Summers was studying pre-Raphaelite artists and writers, and among them, in the 19th century, use of arsenic was high.
There are several plausible theories – one being that she may have been self-administering arsenic to see what would happen.
However then Detective Kathy Kolla finds out that there is a side of the Marion, the dead student, that few knew. Just when the evidence of suicide looks pretty conclusive, another student dies in similar circumstances. Is the murderer Marion’s supervisor anxious to protect his reputation from academic disaster, or her violent step-father, or a lover trying to keep their relationship hidden?
Barry Maitland is an accomplished layer of false trails, sending the reader off blithely to explore red herrings and dead ends. Your mind tries to assemble the evidence in believable scenarios, and then right at the end, in the final resolution, you realise it has been staring you in the face all along. This is a novel that keeps your mind working all the time, the meaning of the title being just one of the little puzzles.
My rating: 4.7
DARK MIRROR is #10 in Barry Maitland’s Brock & Kolla series. I haven’t read them all, but I have enjoyed all that I have read. The relationship between the detective duo is a tantalising one, full of tension, partly generated by the fact that Kolla isn’t always wise, in Brock’s opinion, in the action she chooses to take, and it is an unequal partnership.
Last year I remarked that Barry Maitland is one of those authors who may slip under the radar. You’ll find mini reviews for ALL MY ENEMIES, NO TRACE, and SPIDER TRAP in that post. An Australian author, Maitland is interesting because the Brock and Kolla series is authoritatively set in London.
Maitland has shown though that he can handle a stand-alone too. See my review of BRIGHT AIR from earlier this year.
Maitland’s first mystery The Marx Sisters was a nominee for the John Creasey award for Best First Novel and his second, The Malcontenta, won the 1996 Ned Kelly Award for Best Crime Fiction. Check Maitland’s profile.
The Brock and Kolla series (listed in Fantastic Fiction)
1. The Marx Sisters (1994)
2. The Malcontenta (1995)
3. All My Enemies (1996)
4. The Chalon Heads (1999)
5. Silvermeadow (2000)
6. Babel (2002)
7. The Verge Practice (2004)
8. No Trace (2006)
9. Spider Trap (2007)
10. Dark Mirror (2009)