Discerning mystery fans in search of hard-to-find and out-of-print literary gems should keep an eye on Felony & Mayhem Press, a Manhattan-based crime fiction reprint-publishing house launched in 2005 by Maggie Topkis, co-owner of the renowned Partners in Crime bookstore in Greenwich Village. Felony & Mayhem has unearthed another jewel in The Accomplice by Elizabeth Ironside, a bestselling mystery author in England (A Very Private Enterprise, Death in the Garden, et al.) whose works have been essentially unavailable in the States.
Originally published in 1996, the novel revolves around the narrative of three compelling female characters: Yevgenia Chornoroukaya (a.k.a. Jean Loftus), a Baltic-Russian aristocrat who fled wartorn Europe during WWII and eventually transformed herself into a middle-class Englishwoman; Zita Daunsey, Yevgenia's attorney and longtime friend; and conniving student Xenia, who will do anything to escape her existence in modern-day Russia. When the skeleton of a boy is found buried in a rose garden owned by the elderly Yevgenia, the investigation of an obsessed detective -- coupled with the arrival of a manipulative 21-year-old student allegedly related to Yevgenia -- forces the arthritic woman to relive horrific memories long buried: for good reason.
Another noteworthy selling point of this novel is the author's fascinating background. Elizabeth Ironside is actually a pseudonym for Lady Catherine Manning, the Oxford-educated wife of Sir David Manning, a globe-trotting English diplomat who is currently the British ambassador to the United States. Her impressive diplomatic sojourns (in India, Russia, Poland, France, Israel, and elsewhere) aside, Ironside is a masterful storyteller whose highly literate, evocative prose and richly described characters -- past and present -- make The Accomplice an absolute must-read for fans of authors like Ruth Rendell, P. D. James, and Jacqueline Winspear. American mystery aficionados will be undoubtedly emailing Topkis en masse thanking her and everyone at Felony & Mayhem for finally making Ironside's novels available in the States: This is British crime fiction at its very best. Paul Goat Allen