Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Murder at the Villa Byzantine, by R.T. Raichev


Murder at the Villa Byzantine
By R.T. Raichev
2011


I like second murders. Keeps boredom from setting in. -Lady Grylls

R.T. Raichev has written seven books in this series so far, which I've seen referred to as A Country House Crime and/or An Antonia Darcy and Major Payne Investigation. Murder at the Villa Byzantine is the sixth book in the series and the first one I've read. The starring couple apparently got married at some point as the series progressed and Darcy has made a career move from librarian to mystery novelist. As for the Major, as nearly as I can tell he's apparently retired and one of the well-heeled types who seem to turn up fairly often in mystery novels.

I'll say at the outset that while I wasn't blown away by this book I wasn't so down on it that I wouldn't be willing to give Raichev another chance, especially since I'm a fairly keen fan of country house mysteries. This one get underway at a birthday party for an aging actress where most of the characters are introduced. Perhaps it's a very mild spoiler to say that nothing else happens at the party but there it is.

What I will say, as someone who's typically not wowed by long scenes of characters chit-chatting, is that Raichev has a great knack for bringing his characters to life through their dialogue and this opening chapter was actually the highlight of the book for me.

I won’t say that it exactly goes downhill from there because that's a bit harsh but the rest of the book just didn't exactly grab me. And while I don't feel that mystery fiction really needs to be beholden to a set of rules my feeling would be that if you're going to introduce a bunch of characters at a party at a country house, it seems a bit peculiar to have the murder take place somewhere else and involve a character who's been discussed but not really introduced yet.

That character is a biographer who's currently working on a bio of a member of the Bulgarian royal family (Raichev is also Bulgarian). The murder victim is a Bulgarian woman who's providing him with information on said royal family and who loses her head at his house one night - literally. Though almost anyone could have done it, Raichev and the reader pretty come to an agreement that the suspects are the biographer or someone from the party.

The police are putting their money on the latter, and specifically the goth wannabe daughter of the victim, who seems like a pretty likely suspect for a number of reasons. Things move along and the daughter is released and the plot thickens a bit. One thing I'll say about the latter one third or so is that Raichev makes frequent use there of a tactic I find kind of annoying. That's to put the reader inside of the head of a person who's apparently demented.

But aside from that it comes to a reasonably satisfying conclusion though I could see some of the plot points coming from a mile away. There was one nice twist at the end but I wouldn't say that it blew me away. What I would say is that if you're going to try one of Raichev's books you might want to go with another one. That's what I plan to do, when time and the TBR pile permit.

2 comments:

  1. I read an earlier book by Raichev based on an over-the-top rave and I was, like you, underwhelmed. The one I read had OSPREYS in the title. I've already forgotten it and I'm too tired to do the requisite Google search. It was a struggle to finish. One thing you didn't mention (or didn't notice?) Raichev likes to title his chapters after well known mystery novels and stories form the past. He has a real love for the Golden Age writers, aspires to be like them, but is far from their league, IMO.

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  2. Something else I didn't mention were the numerous asides he made about the art of writing mystery fiction itself. As for the Golden Age, I'd certainly agree with your thoughts on that. What I found interesting was how it was like reading a book set in the Golden Age even though it was actually a modern day setting.

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