cover image The Marx Sisters

The Marx Sisters

Barry Maitland / Author Arcade Publishing $23.95 (288p) ISBN 9

Two Scotland Yard detectives investigate the murder of Karl Marx's great-granddaughters (via an illegitimate son) and the theft of the unpublished manuscript of a fourth volume of Das Kapital, in this engrossing mystery from an Australian writer making his American debut. When 60-something Meredith Winterbottom is found dead in her London flat, Det. Sgt. Kathy Kolla and Chief Inspector David Brock are called in to determine the cause: was she murdered? Meredith and her two sisters had refused to sell their apartment to developers hoping to gentrify Jerusalem Lane, a charming neighborhood where Eastern European immigrants pass the time debating philosophical points and harboring ancient grudges. Kolla and Brock uncover a host of suspicious characters, but the coroner rules death by suicide. The case is reopened six months later, when Meredith's sister Eleanor is murdered. The remaining sister, Peg, who looks like the Queen Mother but is an unreconstructed Stalinist who spouts her great-grandfather's theories while serving tea in fine china, fears for her life. The detectives wade though a maze of misleading clues until, in a dramatic finale, Kolla realizes the strange truth behind the crimes. Maitland has a disconcerting affection for red herrings, which he strews about with a heavy hand. But his deft depiction of his idiosyncratic characters, his evocative portrayal of Jerusalem Lane and his clever use of Marxist theories and history make this nothing less than a Kapital read. (June) FYI: The Marx Sisters was shortlisted for the British Crime Writers Association's John Creasy Award for Best First Mystery.