The King of Diamonds
A William Trave Mystery by Simon Tolkien
Review: Oxfordshire Detective Inspector William Trave still has reservations about the guilt of a man convicted two years ago for murder, largely on evidence he himself provided, even though the man, who recently escaped from prison, is now implicated in another murder in The King of Diamonds, the second mystery in this series by Simon Tolkien.
David Swain was found guilty of killing the lover of his ex-girlfriend, Katya Osman, and sentenced to life imprisonment. His cellmate has a plan to escape, but needs David's help. They pull it off, with David heading immediately for Blackwater Hall, the residence of Katya's uncle Titus Osman, where she now lives … or more accurately, is a kept prisoner herself. DI Trave is called to Blackwater Hall that same night to investigate a murder; Katya is dead, shot through the head. Complicating matters is Trave's estranged wife, Vanessa, who is dating Titus Osman and who may have been present at the time of the murder. In addition to the still at-large David Swain, suspects include Osman and other family members living in the house, Osman's brother-in-law, Franz Claes, who was sympathetic to Germany during the Second World War, and Claes's sister Jana, who was responsible for keeping Katya sedated and unable to leave Blackwater Hall on her own. When Swain is finally captured, the authorities are anxious to pin the murder on him. But Trave, who still thinks Swain may have been innocent of the first murder, is reluctant to rush to judgment in this second case.
Even though there are references to Nazis and war crimes, and a substantial portion of the book is clearly stated to take place in the early 1960s, the writing and tone of the narrative are strongly suggestive of a much different, much older time period. It's deeply atmospheric, frequently dark and moody. Part whodunit, part police procedural, part Gothic romance, part legal/political thriller, The King of Diamonds weaves multiple elements from these various mystery subgenres into a single crime novel that work surprisingly well together. What doesn't work quite as well, however, are the multiple points of view. The characters all seem sort of detached from the proceedings, merely actors in a scene in which they are playing a part. There are occasional glimpses of personal anguish, like this passage from late in the book from Swain: David realized now that the web that unseen hands had been spinning around him for so long was far too cunningly constructed for him to be able to escape its knots by mere assertions of his own innocence. He knew instead that the only way out of the maze was to examine each link in the chain of events that had brought him to where he was now. There had to be a weakness somewhere — something he'd overlooked that would exonerate him and identify his tormentors. But these instances are too infrequent for the reader to be fully invested in the characters themselves.
A quick note about the book's readability: The King of Diamonds is — or maybe just seems — far longer than the 320-some odd pages might suggest, with drawn-out sentences in extended (and extensive) paragraphs and pages with a high word density with minimal margins adding considerably to the overall length. More white space, even at the expense of more pages, would have been welcome.
Acknowledgment: Minotaur Books provided a copy of The King of Diamonds for this review.
Review Copyright © 2011 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
Orders from Berlin
Minotaur Books (Hardcover), December 2012
ISBN-13: 9780312632144; ISBN-10: 0312632142
Location(s) referenced in The King of Diamonds: England
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The King of Diamonds by Simon Tolkien — A William Trave Mystery
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: March 2011
List Price: $24.99