I particularly enjoyed this years seasonal mystery from the British Library Crime Classics series, not least because it centres around a Fabergé egg which adds its own sense of romance and glitter to the story. Beyond that it’s a generally satisfying mystery with a minimum of bodies and plenty of human interest.
It’s almost Christmas when Chief Inspector Brett Nightingale and Sergeant Beddoes are called to a gloomy flat off Islington High Street. Published in 1958 London clearly hasn’t started to swing yet (at least not in this shabby corner of Islington) and war damage is still obvious. An old woman has been found dead, which might have looked quite natural if it wasn’t for the very valuable icon she’d given her landlady.
The dead woman turns out to have been Princess Olga Karukhin, and there’s more than a suspicion that she had other treasures, now missing. As Chief Inspector Nightingale investigates further he begins to think the robbery is linked to a so far successful gang he’s been after, and has to wonder who he can trust.
All of which is made more complicated by a young woman with a severe crush on him, an attack on Sergeant Beddoes, and the search for a Christmas present for Nightingale’s wife.
The descriptions of pre revolutionary Imperial Russian splendours are probably more romantic than exact, but they’re a lot lot of fun (and might be entirely accurate for all I know) and the whole Russian connection is attractive - there’s a shadowy feel of the Cold War, and a common Bolshevik enemy, along with the romance of a fabulous treasure. That Princess Olga had probably travelled far beyond eccentric adds a slightly gothic note that works too.
The foil to this is Nightingales private life and that’s handled well too. A snowy winter adds even more atmosphere and the plot is pacy enough to stop the reader asking to many questions of it. Altogether it’s a charming book that makes for perfect winter reading and shows exactly why this series is so successful (the books might not always be great, but they’re always fun, and the quality is consistent so you can trust them).