Review: Barry Maitland's latest thriller is set in the debauched art scene

  • The Russian Wife, by Barry Maitland. Allen & Unwin, $32.99.

Novelists have been pretty rough on Police Integrity Units of late. Grim, never-smiling investigators turn up to grill decent cops just going about their jobs. Threatening them with the sack or - even worse - time in the slammer. Barry Maitland's skilled homicide cop, Detective Inspector Kathy Kolla, is in real strife with London's Professional Standards Development and a senior officer, Bernard Crouch. Rusted-on readers will find this almost incredible.

This complex novel takes us into several unsavoury worlds. Domestic abuse, a debauched art scene, the double life of a seemingly impeccable London lawyer and Bratva, the Russian mafia. Readers will learn much about the sale of valuable works and the addictions of collectors. The Russian Wife is fast-paced, intriguing, ambitious, with an outcome entirely unexpected.

Some readers might find the world of the Art Fraud detective an entirely unexpected departure from the usual crime novel, but a moment's reflections should convince such readers of its reality. Such are the prices genuine works from the top artists command that the incentive to copy and replace is almost irresistible to clever criminals.

Clever criminals abound in this book, not to be confused with dodgy part-timers. A story about fraud, in this novel nothing is at it seems. Even a vicar, the Reverend Alwyn Bramley-Scott, at an ancient church not far from London, cannot be totally relied upon, possibly something of a fraud too.

The best of the fraudsters turns out to be a junior police officer who successfully knocks off several violent male abusers before turning her considerable skills to destroying the careers of Kolla and her side-kick. She is ably assisted by PSD, for whom, it seems, all cops are suspects.

Readers will be intrigued by the skill which Barry Maitland brings to his understanding of police procedure. At its best, the procedure allows investigators to bring all types of information into the mix. Team work is the key. Sharing information and ideas allows for insights into the criminal mind. The mystery will be solved.

As ever in a Barry Maitland novel, the plotting is exquisite, the story intriguing, the characters sharply drawn and the real villains cleverly hidden from view. As with good crime novels, it all comes together in a satisfying reveal, while David Brock is finally returned to Homicide where he should have been in the first place.

While the Fraud Squad was a waste of Brock's forensic skills, in a book about complex fraud it is the only place where Brock should have been.

Every character in this novel is deceived in some ways, the PSD the biggest loser of them all. It is the only fraudster not to pay the price.

This story Fast-paced thriller set in debauched art world first appeared on The Canberra Times.