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The Malcontenta by Barry Maitland
From the Dustjacket
Publisher : Little Brown & Co
First published : 1995
ISBN : 1559705272
No. Pages : 348 pages
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Detective Sergeant Kathy Kolla and Detective Chief Inspector David Brock made a wonderful team when they worked on their first case together in The Marx Sisters. They had a synergy that allowed them to combine efficiently while working on the case. They return in another tense police procedural and that good relationship will be required again in The Malcontenta as Kolla faces a particularly frustrating case.
The story opens with a very perturbed Kathy Kolla making her way to DCI Brock's house to seek his advice. Brock, who is a highly regarded Scotland Yard detective, has been on leave as he prepares a paper for a conference in Rome and so is removed from the day to day police-work. DS Kolla usually works at the London Met but has been sent to the Southern Counties for a year's secondment possibly as a punishment for the events detailed in The Marx Sisters.
The case in question is the apparent suicide of a man employed at Stanhope Naturopath Clinic, a health farm style complex that basks in its isolation. The director of the clinic seems particularly reluctant to help with providing any information and in fact, even hinders the case. This is annoying and perhaps even a little suspicious but she receives a shock to be confronted and berated by the Deputy Chief Constable who happened to be staying at the clinic.
The Deputy Chief Constable's wrath notwithstanding, she carries on and begins to make progress on the case, suspecting strongly that the suicide is in fact a murder. Just when real breakthroughs are being made she and the constable she is working with are hauled into their superior's office, taken off the case and warned to leave the people from the clinic alone.
Sensing that there is some sort of cover-up going on and determined to find out what it is, it's at this point that she turns to Brock to see if he could come up with a plan. He can, an undercover operation, completely unofficial and against the rules, where he would pose as a patient and enter Stanhope himself. The results are not exactly what Kolla or Brock would have hoped for, but their actions certainly stir things into a delightful frenzy.
Starting off slowly as many police procedurals tend to do, the story builds in intensity developing a distinct us versus them feeling. Once the initial crime has been laid out for us and the main characters (suspects) are introduced, they are almost disregarded as the more troubling interference and discipline from within the police force takes over.
As readers we are kept in the dark during most of The Malcontenta just as the protagonists are. We are just as confused as Kolla and Brock when the case goes spinning out of control and there is a continuing sense of injustice about the events, even a feeling of outrage at the treatment that's being handed out. Barry Maitland has done a superb job of drawing me into the story by playing upon my own emotions, putting me in Kathy Kolla's predicament and effectively asking how I would feel in the same situation. It's a style that gave me the feeling that I held a stake in the outcome.
The Malcontenta is a strong follow-up to The Marx Sisters firmly establishing the partnership that was formed between DS Kolla and DCI Brock. We are given the benefit of learning a little more about both of them although the character development is probably the least strong aspect of the book. At this point I think they are still far from fully formed characters with the concentration placed more on their handling of the case. In particular it seems to me that Brock is yet to reach his full potential.
Insightful detective work while facing possibly career destroying opposition carries the story and is made consistently interesting by changing the lead character, first Kathy Kolla and then David Brock. Barry Maitland is definitely an author to follow for those who enjoy strong police procedurals.
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