I have to declare an interest here :). I wrote a review of
Raichev’s third book for rte ( http://www.reviewingtheevidence.com/review.html?id=7616 )
and he got in touch with me subsequently to which
we have become good friends in correspondence.
So I probably am a little biased but as my initial
review was wholly uninfluenced and this repeats quite
a bit of that I don’t think it has affected me over-much.

The Hunt for Sonya Dufrette – R.T. Raichev (2006)

It is 29th July 2001 and Antonia Darcy’s thoughts are drawn back to the
events in which she was involved twenty years previously; the day of Charles and Diana’s wedding. Antonia was staying at the Jacobean country home, Twiston, of Sir Michael and Lady Mortlock with a very miscellaneous set of fellow-guests. Included amongst them were Lawrence and Lena Dufrette and their autistic 7 year old daughter Sonya. Whilst everyone else was glued to the television set watching the wedding Sonya wandered off and her doll is found in the river at the bottom of the garden; it is presumed that Sonya has drowned. Antonia however starts to wonder if this is what really
happened and with the help of her admirer, Major Payne, starts contacting
those involved in an effort to uncover the truth. Her investigation proceeds
down a number of blind alleys until the truth is finally revealed.

This is the first in the Antonia Darcy and Major Payne series in which the
fourth book ( The Little Victim) has just been released (March 2009).
Raichev possesses that rare thing, a unique voice and it is necessary in a
review of any of his books to draw attention to some of the elements which
make up that voice. There is wit ; wit both in the characters and dialogue
and also in a more post-modern sense – Antonia is a detective story writer
and will often comment on the relationship of the events in the book to the
way in which they would appear (or not appear) in one of her stories.
Raichev possesses the ability to use the post-modern device of calling
attention to his narrative, to its’ fictional nature, without detracting
from the story; this is an incredibly delicate and difficult trick to pull
of but when it succeeds it is a pure delight. There is allusion. Raichev is
constantly allusive and it is highly improbable that any one reader would
catch all the allusions. The chapter headings alone are culled from an
astonishingly wide range of sources. Golden Age mystery fiction is of course
well to the fore but the allusive roaming is much wider than that and can
take the form of both direct comment (here we have the delicious comment
about one contemporary mystery writer ‘…pretentious bores. Baronesses with missions who shall remain nameless’) and subtle hints, reminders of other writers (there is a wonderful Bayswater hotel here which brought me
instantly to Anthony Powell). Extravagant characterisation. Raichev’s books are full of the most wonderful characters, many of them behaving very badly some of them completely loopy (loopy is really the mot juste). Excellent
writing – a lucid yet engaging prose. And of course a convoluted plot! At
the heart of any Raichev book is the plot itself; this is why the books work
so well because the allusion, post-modernism, wit, literacy is laid on top
of the plot. In this Raichev is very much an heir of the Golden Age maestros
as well as an amused and appreciative commentator on them. It is also worth saying – although the cover alone will probably be enough to reveal this – that Raichev would not be for everyone. If your tastes run to stark realism then Raichev will very definitely not be for you.
This is very much a fictional world in every sense – not only is it of
itself self-consciously created, but it inhabits a world of other fictions.

The various elements which I have identified come together in different ways in each individual book and different ones are fore grounded. In The Hunt for Sonya Dufrette, as is natural in the first book in the series,
considerable attention is paid to establishing the character of Antonia
Darcy, who is working at this time in the idiosyncratic library of The
Military Club (which is where she has encountered Hugh Payne). Her emotional involvement with the case is much stronger than in some later books and in my judgement this does not work wholly satisfactorily. I would like to return to this when I have read the complete series but certainly by
Assassins at Ospreys (the third) Raichev has adopted a more detached tone
which in my judgement works better. There is also an element of Gothicism
here, even near Gothic horror in the conclusion; fitting perhaps for a
Jacobean setting and reminiscent of some of Christie’s more Gothic elements (there is a ‘hollow’ to which much attention is drawn). Much better is the
use of Charles and Diana’s wedding which is observed with a delightful
running commentary from the egomaniacal Lawrence Dufrette. And all the other elements are in place : the wit, the characterisation, the delightful prose, the allusiveness, the post-modernism and the plotting. Read as a debut and first Raichev it would be a wonderful, delightful and original find. I know that he gets even better however.

(March 2009)

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