Spider Trap by Barry Maitland
Barry Maitland is the author of a series of nine crime novels so far featuring the detective team of ‘Brock and Kolla’. Some years ago, I remember reading one of the earlier ones, The Chalon Heads, which was set in the world of stamp collecting. A plot involving gangsters and forgers behind the philately made an otherwise potentially dry subject a rather good read. When Alison at Mostly Books recommended this one and lent me her copy I was very happy to indulge, especially as I haven’t read a crime novel for a while.
Surprisingly perhaps, for a Brit who relocated to Australia in the mid 1980s, Maitland’s series is set in and around London. Returning to the area where he grew up for his novels, Spider Trap is set south of the river in Lambeth. Scotland Yard’s Brock and Kolla are a classic police pairing – David Brock is the mature and experienced DCI, and DS Kathy Kolla is his insightful younger colleague, working in the Serious Crime Squad (SCI).
The story starts off with the bodies of two girls being discovered in a garage; they had been shot in the head and there was evidence of crack cocaine use. It would have been put down to just another gang murder, but the local MP Michael Grant, a charismatic young Jamaican, raises the profile and the SCI are called in. A young lad at the school next door, snuck onto the wasteground near the train tracks hoping to find the gun, but instead finds a human jawbone. That discovery leads to a further three bodies being found. However, these had been buried over twenty years previously but it appears that the same weapon was used – what’s the connection?
DCI Brock is ideally placed to lead the case, as he started his detective career in Lambeth. He remembers the Brixton Riots of 1981, and a local family – the Roaches, headed by the formidable ‘Spider’ Roach – who with his thuggish sons ran organised crime in the area. Now he and his sons are running successful seemingly legitimate businesses, and it’s hard for Brock to believe that they’re not involved, but you can’t make arrests without concrete evidence. The investigation gets going, and Brock and Kolla concentrate on identifying the older bodies, investing hours of legwork on the case, but all the while Brock is sure that the Roach family is behind it somehow.
Off duty, Kolla is starting a relationship with another police officer, Tom Reeves from Special Branch. Reeves is used to working undercover and using unconventional methods to get results. When he shows interest in the case, Brock is happy to have him seconded in to help – Kathy isn’t so sure this is a good thing. All the hard slog begins to pay off and the MP Grant is very helpful – but they still need that incontrovertible proof to put the Roaches away. Then events take a significant turn, (more I cannot say), but everything escalates and the ensuing chaos can only lead to a final confrontation with Spider Roach.
Fans of police procedurals will enjoy this novel. As with any series, starting at the beginning can offer the rewards of getting to know the main characters intimately, however Spider Trap worked very well on its own. Brock and Kolla are both professional and competent, but also very likeable, complementing each other’s abilities well. Their working relationship has an almost familial aspect to it – Uncle and favoured niece perhaps.
Naturally the first half of the novel is involved with setting the scene, and giving us the back story about the Jamaican immigrants to the area, the Brixton riots and the current culture; the locations are all vividly described and realistic. In the second half as plot twists come thick and fast, the action gets more complex and page-turning.
I shall definitely be returning to the Brock and Kolla series. The fifth in the series Silvermeadow set in a large mall like those giant temples to shopping outside London sounds particularly attractive, but I shall probably start at the beginning…