In Barry Maitland's latest British crime thriller, Detective Chief Inspector David Brock and Detective Sergeant Kathy Kolla are assigned to investigate the abduction of Tracey Rudd, who has been taken from her east London home
- the third young girl to be kidnapped in recent weeks.
Six-year-old Tracey is the daughter of famous artist Gabriel Rudd, and she has been living with her father in Northcote Square, a collection of artists' studios, flats and shops centered around a leafy park. Both Barry and Kathy soon learn that Tracey has become a part of a bitter custody battle between her father and his deceased wife's parents.
The Nolans blame their son-in-law for the suicide several years ago of their
daughter Jane and are angry that Gabe appears to be too self-absorbed and neglectful toward his child and his own life. Indeed, Kathy begins to develop a growing sense that Gabriel doesn't seem very knowledgeable about
- or that interested in - the details of Tracey's disappearance and whether she is alive or dead.
Spurred on by Fergus Tait, the officious owner of the local art gallery The Pie Factory, Gabriel decides to mount an evolving installation
revolving around Tracey's disappearance, the exhibition playing on the word trace: "the missing girl trace, lost without a trace, and the artwork itself presented in the form of tracings."
The presentation attracts the national media and crowds gather daily, yet some people begin to feel that Gabriel is exploiting Tracey's disappearance for his own purposes. Barry and Kathy also become convinced that Rudd has arranged his daughter's abduction to further his own career.
The clues come threading back to Northcote Square, where everyone is connected to everyone else by invisible threads of history
- of loss, business or desire - and the more the detectives learn, the more convoluted the motive for the kidnapping appears.
The suspects gradually line-up. Eccentric old portrait painter Reg Gilbey spies on the kids in the playground below; nutty old Betty Zielinski once tried to take Tracey after Jane died and claimed the child was hers.
Young artists Poppy Wilkes and Stan Dodworth constantly party and take drugs, and
they probably know more than their letting on. And what is the secret of retired judge Sir Jack Beaufort, who is currently having his portrait painted by Reg for hanging in the National Gallery?
When a suspect is suddenly strung up and electrocuted to death, Northcote Square finds itself mired in progressively more violence.
As Barry and Kathy discover that there is far more afoot than serial kidnapping, they end up delving deeper and deeper into the lives of those at Northcote Square.
This is indeed an exceptional novel by Maitland exploring the connection where art is validated by death and death by art, the story sprinkled with druggies and artists, bossy gallery owners and eccentric old women.
The author also deftly presents his themes of child pornography, sociopathic artists, and cover-ups that
go right up to the highest echelons of the criminal justice system. No Trace is without a doubt British crime fiction at its best, a highly unusual and bizarre tale of the sacrifices people make for their talent, for their art, and even for their families.