Barry Maitland is the author of the acclaimed Brock and Kolla series of crime mystery novels set in London, where Barry grew up after his family moved there from Paisley in Scotland where he was born. He studied architecture at Cambridge University, and went on to work as an architect in the UK, then took a PhD in urban design at the University of Sheffield, where he also taught and wrote a number of books on architecture and urban design. In 1984 he moved to Australia to head the architecture school at the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, and held that position until 2000.
The first Brock and Kolla novel, The Marx Sisters, was published in Australia and the UK in 1994, and subsequently in the USA and in translation in a number of other countries, including Germany, Italy, France and Japan. It was short-listed for the UK Crime Writers' Association John Creasey Award for best new fiction, and featured the central two characters of the series, Detective Chief Inspector David Brock, and his younger woman colleague, Detective Sergeant Kathy Kolla. The sequel, The Malcontenta, was first published in 1995 and was joint winner of the inaugural Ned Kelly Award for best crime fiction by an Australian author. The books have been described as whydunits as much as whodunits, concerned with the devious histories and motivations of their characters. Barry's background in architecture drew him to the structured character of the mystery novel, and his books are notable for their ingenious plots as well as for their atmospheric settings, each in a different intriguing corner of London.
Barry Maitland now writes fiction full time, and lives in the Hunter Valley.
The Brock and Kolla novels were among the first in contemporary crime fiction to feature a male-female police team as the central characters, playing complementary roles in the resolution of their cases. I liked the possibilities for human tension and for giving the reader alternative points of view which they provide, with Brock the older, more experienced man and Kathy his younger acolyte in London's Metropolitan Police.
They first meet up in The Marx Sisters, where Kathy, in charge of her first murder investigation, unexpectedly finds herself accompanied by the Scotland Yard heavyweight Brock, for reasons that only emerge during the course of the story, and which nearly bring Kathy's career to a premature end. In the next story, The Malcontenta, Kathy is frustrated to be posted out of London, and enlists Brock's support to investigate corrupt practices in a naturopathic clinic in the Kent countryside involving senior police officers. From this success she is able to join Brock's elite unit within Scotland Yard's Serious Crime Branch for the next case, All My Enemies, in which we also learn something of Kathy's family history and the childhood turning point of the suicide of her father.
As the stories have continued, the relationship between the two detectives has gradually evolved, with Kathy becoming more self-confident and Brock more dependent on her insights and tenacity. Both Brock, divorced, and Kathy, single, have had relationships with other people during the series, which also features a number of other regular characters both within and outside the police force, but it is the bond between the two main players which provides the central dynamic of the stories.
Each book is set in a different part of London and its surrounds, where I grew up and which I now return to as a partial stranger. I like to think of the detectives waiting for us at the start of each story, ready to lead us into a new and maybe unexpected part of the city. I have always loved the strong part that atmosphere and a sense of place play in crime fiction, and my architectural background contributes to that. The buildings and laneways are, for me, another set of characters in the books.
The crime gives the detectives entry into the secret corners of the city, and also opens up the private activities of its people. Each book has a particular theme based around some obsessive interest of the characters - naturopathic medicine in one book, philately in another, amateur theatre in another, and so on. Researching these obsessions is for me one of the most intriguing parts of writing the books.
After completing nine Brock and Kolla novels, it felt time to turn to a project I’d been thinking about for some time – a story set in Australia, my home now for over twenty years. One of the principal themes of Australian art and literature that has always intrigued me is the relationship between people and the landscape of this continent, and the settings of the book shift from the bays and towers of Sydney to the unspoilt wilderness of Tasmania and Lord Howe Island. My characters engage with the landscape in the most direct and dangerous way, as climbers, and it is the death of one of them, Luce, in a climbing accident, that forms the central mystery of the story. Lord Howe Island, where she disappeared, is an extraordinary place, an isolated World Heritage site 770 kilometres off the shores of New South Wales in the Tasman Sea, and home to a unique collection of flora and fauna which Luce was studying as part of a scientific team. I found it fascinating to research this environment as well as the culture of rock climbing for the book, and a refreshing change from Brock and Kolla’s London. I also made the decision to change from the third-person point of view of the police procedural novel to a first-person narrative, where Josh, Luce’s old boyfriend, speaks directly to us about what he thinks is going on. These changes of setting, story and voice made this an exciting book for me to write, and I hope for you to read. But if you feel like returning to London’s mean streets when you’re finished, don’t worry – there’s another Brock and Kolla on the way.
My great-grandparents were weavers in a croft on the west coast of Scotland, and I often feel that the process of writing must be similar to what they did - trying to create a rich, coherent and completely convincing pattern out of words, ideas, characters and events. I think that the crime mystery novel is a particularly good vehicle for this, with its inherent demands for structure, pace and resolution. The detective (or in my case detectives, for my central characters, Brock and Kolla, form a team) is the reader's guide into the mystery, working forward in time through the investigation and at the same time backwards through the history of the other characters. There will be false trails certainly, but these should not be spurious tricks on the reader, but instead should be integral to the story, revealing some partial truth along the way. It is rather like an archaeological dig, working down through the layers of time until finally the whole story is revealed. It's nice if this final revelation is surprising, perhaps shocking, but it must also seem somehow right and inevitable.
When I'm writing my stories I, like the reader and the detectives, am not certain what I'm going to discover. At the end of my initial period of plotting and research, perhaps three to six months, I have certain probabilities in mind, but it isn't until I'm actually writing that the full possibilities of the story become apparent to me, and it may not be until the very end that I discover the full and final picture. That makes the process quite hair-raising, because it isn't always clear that there is going to be a really satisfying answer at the end of the day, and sometimes I despair of finding it. I like it when a reader tells me, 'I reckoned I'd got the answer around page 200; then the detectives came to the same conclusion about page 250, and I thought, I beat you to it. But then I realised there were still 50 pages to go, and we must both be wrong.'