RogerBW's Blog

The Palace Guard, Charlotte MacLeod 08 December 2015

1982, cozy American detective fiction; third of MacLeod's novels of Sarah Kelling and Max Bittersohn. At a private art museum, a guard falls to his death, having been complaining that his favourite Rubens is different these days.

MacLeod's earlier books have concentrated on the characters and let the mystery drift somewhat; this one is rather more balanced. Bittersohn of course is already an art expert, and he draws Kelling into the investigation partly for her skills and partly because he's clearly fallen headlong for her. That romance is not rushed – if anything it's drawn out to excess – but it's pleasing to see the business spread over several books as both characters think about what they're doing. The Thin Man films are obvious inspiration; MacLeod is no Hammett, or even Hackett and Goodrich, to write truly sparkling dialogue, but she makes a decent fist of it nonetheless.

There are plenty of the usual characters too, of course, some of them returning from previous books: more of Sarah's relatives, a "Polish countess" who may in fact be slightly better than she should be, a musical impresario who knows everybody, and a group of cheerful art forgers:

"Man, that Lupe is a gas," muttered the cynic who was now sprawled across Sarah's left foot. "He copies them Mondrians off the linoleum at Sears and Sawbuck. Man, I say a real creative artist ought to think up his own Mondrians."

The eventual solution relies on someone's having been extremely gullible over a very long period; I'd quibble, but I'm sure there are examples of such in the real world.

It's still quick and light reading, but there's the occasional hint of more substance that manages to anchor the story in reality rather than Amateur Detective World: like the way the entire Boston Police Department now seems to know Sarah and worry when she's involved in another death, or when an impoverished woman puts on her best show:

At throat and ears were pearls so discreet as to seem genuine.

Followed by The Bilbao Looking Glass.

[Buy this at Amazon] and help support the blog.

Comments on this post are now closed. If you have particular grounds for adding a late comment, comment on a more recent post quoting the URL of this one.

Search
Archive
Tags 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 3d printing action aeronautics aikakirja anecdote animation anime army astronomy audio tech base commerce battletech beer boardgaming bookmonth chain of command children chronicle church of no redeeming virtues cold war comedy computing contemporary cornish smuggler cosmic encounter coup cycling dead of winter doctor who documentary drama driving drone ecchi espionage essen 2015 essen 2016 essen 2017 existential risk falklands war fandom fantasy film firefly first world war flash point food garmin drive gazebo geodata gin gurps gurps 101 harpoon historical history horror hugo 2014 hugo 2015 hugo 2016 hugo 2017 hugo 2018 hugo-nebula reread in brief avoid instrumented life kickstarter learn to play leaving earth linux mecha museum mystery naval non-fiction one for the brow opera perl photography podcast politics powers prediction privacy project woolsack pyracantha quantum rail ranting raspberry pi reading reading boardgames social real life restaurant reviews romance rpg a day rpgs science fiction scythe second world war security shipwreck simutrans smartphone south atlantic war squaddies stationery steampunk stuarts suburbia superheroes suspense television the resistance thirsty meeples thriller tin soldier torg toys trailers travel vietnam war war wargaming weather wives and sweethearts writing about writing x-wing young adult
Special All book reviews, All film reviews
Produced by aikakirja v0.1