I first came across Elizabeth Ironside on Bev’s blog My Reader’s Block during the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme. I liked the sound of her books, so when I saw The Accomplice in my local library I immediately borrowed it.
Elizabeth Ironside is the pseudonym of Lady Catherine Manning, wife of Sir David Manning the former British Ambassador to the United States (from 2003-2007). Her first novel A Very Private Enterprise won the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) John Creasey Award for Best First Mystery of 1985, and Death in the Garden was shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger for Best Mystery of 1995. The Accomplice is her third novel, published in 1996.
This is one of the most fascinating mysteries I’ve read for a while. It’s historical crime fiction, moving back in time to Latvia before and during the Second World War and present day Russia and Britain.
Summary (from the back cover):
‘Zita Dauncey’s tragic past and difficult present seem firmly under control. Until a child’s skeleton is dug up in her friend Jean’s rose bed, and (Xenia) a mysterious young woman arrives from Russia.
Jean’s English ordinariness hides her original identity as Yevgenia Chornoroukya: a woman whose history includes two lovers, two exiles and all the desperate compromises she makes to escape the horrors of eastern Europe in 1945. And quite possibly, the murder of a child.’
I liked the way Ironside wove together the past and the present, although at first I thought there was too much about Jean’s background, but it grew on me as I became fascinated with her history and life in Russia during the war years.
This is a complex book, with plenty of interesting characters, all of whom are well-rounded characters who came to life as I read, some with their annoying ways, like Xenia and others, like Zita, who I came to like a lot – for example, Zita’s son, Tom has cerebral palsy and Xenia’s view is that “physical disability shows moral distortion“, quoting Stalin’s withered arm, Richard III, Attila the Hun (club foot) “And Hitler, you only have to look at him to see he was unsafe and insane.“(pages 99 – 100)
Xenia is a scheming, manipulative character. She claimed to be related to Jean but actually she had no idea whether they were or not. Jean’s reaction to her seemed to indicate she had something to hide or fear – and just what that was gradually surfaces.
Along with that strand of the book there are the questions about the identity of the child’s skeleton found buried in the rose garden, how long ago it was buried and the implications for Jean who claimed to know nothing about it.
This is a well paced book building gradually to a climax, a book that I wanted to finish but was sad when it came to the end, leaving me with some questions still unanswered. I enjoyed it very much and I hope to read more of Elizabeth Ironside’s books.
Death in the Garden (1995)
The Accomplice (1995)
The Art of Deception (1998)
A Good Death (2000)