It is a few years since I read a Maitland. I have read
the whole of the Brock/Kolla series up to Babel (2002)
but missed The Verge Practice. I was a big Maitland
fan, regarding Silvermeadow in particular as one of
the best individual mysteries of the past few years.
I know that Maitland is one of those writers who sharply
divides opinion, which I suppose is because in most of his
more recent books he is tackling ‘big’ social issues – some people
dislike mysteries doing this at all, others may dislike
Maitland’s particular take/approach. He is certainly not
an easy read.

Having said which I was very unconvinced by No Trace.
It certainly has some peculiar strengths. Maitland is a very fine
London writer as he proved in his very first book (The Marx
Sisters) and this is evident here too. As the book opens
Brock and Kolla are already engaged on the case of two
young girls who have gone missing; then a third goes
missing – Tracey Rudd, daughter of the contemporary/
avant-garde artist Gabriel Rudd, who lives in Northcote
Square, home to a contemporary art gallery and various
individuals who’s lives are curiously intertwined. The book
revolves around the search for Tracey, the murders which
occur in Northcote Square and Gabriel Rudd’s use of the
events in a piece of contemporary performance art. Maitland’s
theme is, obviously, art and especially modern art.

Now there is much here of interest. Maitland’s use of actual
examples from art, in particular Fuseli, is reminiscent
of Hill’s use of Beddoes in Death’s Jest book. His use of
London reminds me in places of Allingham. The plot
is often gripping, the events dramatic and there is much food
for thought. But these reminders of Hill and Allingham tend
in a way to detract – because good as he is Maitland is
not in their class.

But I have a more fundamental problem with this book which
I did not have with other Maitlands; this is that I think his
social observation is seriously awry. I do not believe that
contemporary art and artists have anything like the social
power and influence which he ascribes to them. I am absolutely
certain that if any artist tried to make artistic capital out of his
daughter’s disappearance, far from being feted, he would be
torn limb from limb by an enraged public unless he was
under round the clock police protection. This is extremely
evident in the UK at this very moment as we have had a tragic
case of a kidnapped child (Madeleine McCann) recently – its domination
of the news agenda has been complete. Because Rudd’s artistic endeavour
is so central to the book this presents a crucial problem – Maitland’s
misplaced and wrong-headed social analysis consistently intrudes
and destroys the book’s credibility.

All this is a great pity. But I will certainly continue to read Maitland.
Even when, as here, he misfires, he is always interesting.

(June 2007)

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