The Christmas Egg by Mary Kelly (1958)

Olga Karukhin was found three days before Christmas, dead in her squalid London flat. She had lived in poverty since fleeing Russia in the wake of the March Revolution. Which seems odd, as she had also been known to repay kindnesses with golden ikons and jeweled broaches. So, Chief Inspector Brett Nightingale is brought in, not to investigate the death, which appears natural, but a possible connection with robberies that have occurred the city. His investigation uncovers some interesting facts. Mrs. Karukhin was, in actuality, Princess Olga Karukhin, and she had recently been in contact with a “leading figure in the trade of fine jewelry, objects of art, and antiques.” Did the Princess have other treasures hidden away, if so where are they now?

This is no warm Christmas cosy. In fact it is rather bleak and grim. There are no family gatherings, country houses with warm fires, or Christmas trees laden with decorations. Kelly writes of dark alleyways, flat-faced buildings, and dark cramped rooms. And her writing is atmospheric and beautifully graphic.

The khaki greatcoat and blankets which served for covers were scarcely raised by her bony old body. Her grey head rested on a greyer pillow, across which a sluggish winter fly crawled by stops and starts, attracted by the greasiness of the shawl wrapped around her shoulders.”

This is also not a murder mystery, it is not a police procedural, there is no impossible crime, or any real puzzle at all. How do you categorize it? I guess you don’t. Regarding Kelly’s writing, Martin Edwards states in his very informative introduction, “There are no locked room mysteries in her novels, no elaborate puzzles or plot twists, and no eccentric crime-solving genius.” Quite simply, Kelly has written a tightly constructed crime story filled with unconventional characters and finely drawn psychological insights.

KarukhinKelly has a talent for creating absorbing characters. This seems strange, since her characterizations are rather stark, in that we see only the barest of physical detail. But through the narrative and with her dialogue, Kelly offers insights into her characters that makes them interesting, engaging, and quite compelling. We know nothing of Nightingale and Beddoes except that they have a professional relationship, yet with a few short sentences Kelly makes us aware that they have, not just a mutual respect between colleagues, but a long-held warmth that goes beyond the job. The victim, Princess Olga, is dead before the story even begins, yet the impact of her character is far reaching, and her presence is felt throughout the story. And Ivan Karukhin, the grandson

My issues with the book are few. While I loved the writing, I found that some of the dialogue and references were very enigmatic (i.g. the exchange regarding Nightingale’s real first name) or maybe I’m just a little slow? Also, while the build-up to the (rather thrilling) ending kept the reader guessing, I felt that it did drag on just a bit too long.

The Christmas Egg was definitely not what I was expecting, but still I enjoyed it immensely and recommend it highly.

My Judgement – 4/5

Prior Rulings Bitter Tea and Mystery, Kate @ crossexamingingcrime

Murder Mystery Bingo – Weapons: Medicine or drugs

Feature image – The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. S rozhdestvom Khristovym I s Novym Godom. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e3-67a1-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

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