Oh, lucky me! I have discovered another great series of mysteries by Australian writer Barry Maitland. They feature Detective Sergeant Kathy Kolla and Detective Chief Inspector Brock of the Serious Crime Branch of Scotland Yard.
The Marx Sisters is the first of the series, published in 1994. Seems like only yesterday, doesn’t it, but that yesterday was twenty years ago. Ha. Twenty years ago, I had less weight, less grey hair, and less free time to read mysteries.
The Marx sisters are three elderly women living on the quirky Jerusalem Lane in London. In the middle of high tech, high rise and high priced real estate, Jerusalem Lane is the land that time forgot. Settled originally by refugees from all over, it has a ‘feel’ of home, and guess what! Karl Marx lived there for a while.
It is peopled by an ex Nazi who now owns a used book store, a Russian refugee who has a sausage deli, and a number of other interesting characters. Meredith, the oldest, and her deceased husband, bought this small two story property when they came back from Australia, at the suggestion of her youngest sister, Eleanor. Upon the husband’s death, she converted the upstairs into two small apartments for the two younger sisters, never married Eleanor, and widowed Peg, both charming but economically hopeless people.
One day, Meredith is found dead in her bed. It is discovered that she was smothered in her sleep with a plastic bag over her head. That is when we meet the two policepersons, Kolla and Brock.
We eventually learn that: they are the descendants of the bastard son of Karl Marks and his housekeeper, and are extreme Marxists of different stripes, Peg being a Stalinist, and Eleanor of a more traditional bent. Eleanor has some old books of Marx’s writings and some drafts and other documents. Seems like some Marxist scholar might be interested in them. It also appears that there exists a fourth but unpublished work.
And then we learn that Meredith is something of a busybody, and has told people about the ex Nazi. He has been harassed to the point of being willing to sell to the corporation in order to retire somewhere where no one knows him.
But wait. Follow the money, people, follow the money. It is always about money. A large development corporation has been quietly buying up all the property on Jerusalem Lane over the last 30 years in order to tear it down and build a huge modern complex in its place. All but the sisters’ property. And Meredith isn’t about to sell. No way. She leaves her property to her only son, spoiled and unpleasant as he is, with the legalities in place that the sisters can live there as long as they live before the son can dispose of the property. So could he be the killer? The value of the property goes down by the minute, because once the corporation starts building around it, it will lose its value.
So what’s it to be, people? Revenge of the Nazi? Greed of the son? Some Marx-fanatic wanting the books and papers? An evil employee of the Giant Corporation who wants that property at all costs?
We learn a bunch about Marxism from the sisters:
“In the present, the works of Karl Marx are so universally misunderstood and misrepresented. You see, our great grandfather maintained that the revolution could only be achieved in the most advanced societies, not in the backward peasant countries where so-called Marxist revolutions have occurred in the past seventy years. That is logical, you see, because he understood that it was only by passing through the complete cycle of capitalist development that a society would experience its inner contradictions to the full, and thus be capable of transforming itself and achieving the final goal of true socialism.
Now, if you understand this, then you can see that the whole history of socialist revolutions in this century, in Russia, and in even less developed countries, has been a dreadful mistake, a misguided attempt to take a short cut from feudalism to socialism. Our great grandfather foresaw that such an attempt would be doomed, and he wrote his final book to describe the true path. His book is a map of the future, but it cannot be used to take a short cut to that future, as were his other books. that is why it cannot be published until the time is ready.
We are also introduced to Proudhon’s Confessions, which has only a walk-on part in the story, but you know me, I like coming upon interesting tidbits in the midst of the trivia of life. So, who was Proudhon, you ask? I will tell you:
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was a French politician, an economist , a socialist and a contemporary of Marx. He was the first person to declare himself an anarchist and is is considered by many to be the “father of anarchism”. His work attracted the scrutiny of Karl Marx, who started a correspondence with him.
Proudhon is famous for his claim Property is theft. He means that to own anything, land or items, is to take it from the access of everyone else. It is a very radical philosophical idea.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau made the same general point when he wrote: “The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying ‘This is mine,’ and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.”
This all relates nicely in the story because of the apparent theft of the Marx books and papers from the sisters, plus the desire of the corporaton and the son for the property . I love interwoven stuff like this.
Oh, yeah, and there is another murder, too. Like one isn’t enough, right?