Title: The Christmas Egg
Writer: Mary Kelly
Publishing House: British Library Crime Classics
Date of Publication: October 10th 2019 (first published 1958)
Rating: 5 stars
‘’Princess Karukhina once had been used to lying in a carved bed inlaid with mother-of-pearl, between silk sheets changed daily, covered with down quilts and white urs. The walls of her lofty bedroom, sprayed constantly with rosewater, had been set with Wedgwood jasper plaques. Whole pelts of Polar bears had lain like ice floes on the glassy floor. The dark cramped room where she now lay was both sleeping and living room. The walls were shoulder-rubbed, the single rug curled at the corners, there was a pervasive smell of biscuits gone soft. The door of a wardrobe hung askew above the wedge of newspaper that had held it shut; in its mirror a tilted reflection of window and sky was dimming to a London dusk.’’
Princess Olga Karukhin is found dead in her dark, claustrophobic flat in Islington. She found refuge in London following the desolation of Russia during the October Revolution of 1917 and became a British citizen, carrying a portion of her belongings. Her trunk is empty. Investigating a death and a theft, Chief Inspector Brett Nightingale has to deal with suspicions of revenge and the threat of the Bolsheviks, dubious transactions initiated by shady jewellers and an oppressed -or is he, really? – grandson. It is December the 22nd and Christmas is coming but the criminals aren’t deterred by holidays…
I love Islington, its vibe and character are exceptional! The Almeida Theatre, the Regent’s Canal!!
Anyway, back to our book!
Mary Kelly demonstrates the atmosphere of London during the wonderful hullabaloo of Christmas and the unique aura of Islington during the 50s. Blending the troubled and troubling history of Russia, the persecution of the members of the aristocracy that found refuge in Europe by the spies and thugs of the Bolsheviks, the legendary Fabergè eggs with the characteristics, the prejudices, the aspirations of British society. Embellished with Opera references and an acute perception of heterogeneous social and political implications, Mary Kelly created a realistic and sophisticated seasonal mystery. And I adored Brett Nightingale!
Every time I start a new British Library Crime Classics volume, I can’t help thinking that Martin Edwards’s Introductions are as enjoyable as reading the actual mystery itself. Absolutely brilliant!