THE PROMISED LAND by Barry Maitland (Allen & Unwin, $A29.99)
After a nearly six-year absence, Barry Maitland has returned with a new novel about his popular detective pairing of David Brock and Kathy Kolla.
In the six years since we last saw them, Brock has retired and is aimlessly spending his time at his partner’s, Suzanne, place on the Sussex coast, while Kolla has been promoted. She is now a Detective Chief Inspector in charge of her first major case, a series of brutal murders on the Hampstead Heath. The killer has been leaving little in the way of clues, but when a similar murder of a young woman occurs in the house of a failing London publisher on the edge of the Heath, she arrests the owner, John Pettigrew, and charges him with murder. Pettigrew is an unlikely murderer and his lawyer contacts Brock and asks for him to come to London and speak to the publisher. Brock is initially reluctant, but acquiesces and soon finds himself caught up in the case and at loggerheads with his former police colleagues, including Kolla.
This is a very clever and engaging crime novel, which has all the ingredients of a good mystery. The detectives are engaging and flawed, the secondary characters are well fleshed-out and the plot is cleverly constructed and full of interest. There is a stunning mid-book development that will come as a surprise to most readers and Maitland keeps his plot twisting and turning all the way to the final page. Underpinning the book is a nice literary sub-plot about a lost George Orwell novel that may, or may not, be fake. There are also some wry reflections on writers, particularly crime writers: “I am a crime writer… I know far more about killing people than any real-life murderer.”
I think that the plot is one of the best that Maitland has concocted, but a lot of the book’s pleasure comes in seeing how Brock and Kolla have aged and changed. Maitland does a good job in conveying Brock’s aimlessness and loss of purpose early in the book and Kolla continues to grow as a determined detective with an empty home life and a closet full of lost opportunities.
In all, it is a very enjoyable read.
Four and a half stars out of five.
Note: The Promised Land only seems to be currently released in Australia, although Book Depository and others will ship copies to other countries. Worthwhile checking out.
An earlier shorter version of this review originally appeared in the Canberra Weekly