The Christmas Egg by Mary Kelly

Mary Kelly
The Christmas Egg

I chose this book as my Christmas reading book this year, as it’s always nice to read something with a Christmas theme at Christmas time, I feel. Plus it’s always a treat to read a British Library Crime Classic book which is a series that I adore, in fact I have to ration myself with reading these otherwise I fear I’d never read anything else! I’m interested in the sound of this one, and I’ve not read any of Mary Kelly’s books before.

The Christmas Egg by Mary Kelly available on Amazon
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I chose this book as my Christmas reading book this year, as it’s always nice to read something with a Christmas theme at Christmas time, I feel. Plus it’s always a treat to read a British Library Crime Classic book which is a series that I adore, in fact I have to ration myself with reading these otherwise I fear I’d never read anything else! I’m interested in the sound of this one, and I’ve not read any of Mary Kelly’s books before. 

The book begins with 90 year old Russian princess, Olga Karukhin, found dead on her bed in her apartment room. Detective Nightingale arrives with Sergeant Beddoes to investigate, they have learnt that she is Russian but don’t yet know of her aristocratic heritage. There is an empty chest under her bed with the key on a string around her neck, and they learn that she had previously given two valuable treasures, a picture and a brooch, to another occupant of the building, Mrs Minelli, so they presume that there were other treasures in the chest which have now been stolen. There is a book of devotions on the table beside her bed which has in it a handwritten hymn and a handwritten address of a shop, Majendie’s in Finch Street, London. Nightingale knows this shop. There have been recent robberies in two other areas in London, so the detectives presume that this robbery has been committed by the same gang, although this time it seems to have resulted in a death. A van was seen at the property at about 10.30am, with a Gas Board sign on it, which is a similar method to the other robberies, but the detectives then wonder if Olga may have been already dead when the robbers arrived. The detectives note that Olga had a peaceful face in death and with no signs of violence on her or on the bed, and she died at about 11am/12pm that day. Olga’s grandson Ivan, aged 40, who is known to drink, lives in the room next door. Mrs Minelli tells the police that she heard Ivan go up to Olga’s room and then immediately rush out of the building, so the police put an alert out for him. Mrs Minelli says she went up to the room after Ivan had ran out and then found the body. Mrs Minelli did Olga’s shopping for her as she was a recluse and never went outside due to fear of Russian spies. Hmmm, I am immediately intrigued how a Russian princess could have fallen on such hard times that she was living in a poky bare small room in Islington. And I wonder why we, the reader, were given the information about her being a princess before the police learnt it, that seems unusual. And I like the Nightingale and Beddoes relationship, with their gentle sarcasm to each other.

Nightingale learns from a old university friend, who specialises in Russian history, that the dead woman was a princess and that she left Russia in 1917 at the outbreak of a revolution, she had felt it was dangerous to stay in Russia but her son had felt differently and insisted on staying so she had left with his pregnant wife, who gave birth prematurely and died when they reached Finland. She had continued to Sweden and then to England with her baby grandson, Ivan, moving to their current rooms in the early 1920s. Her son died in Russia. Nightingale goes to Majendie’s, but the housekeeper says he is out at the theatre. Nightingale realises that either he or Majendie’s premises are being watched. Ivan has been located in a pub and Beddoes is watching him at the bar, and can see that he is the worse for wear, and he seems to be obsessing about an ornate egg. When Ivan leaves, Beddoes follows him but then briefly loses sight of him, and then realises that Ivan is in the canal. Beddoes shouts Ivan’s name, before diving in the canal to rescue him. When Beddoes returns to the bank with Ivan, he himself freezing and in a near state of collapse, he is feebly trying to resuscitate Ivan when he is hit on the head and loses consciousness. Oh dear, poor Beddoes! So presumably he was being followed, and or perhaps they were following Ivan and when Beddoes shouted Ivan’s name this alerted them to the fact that Beddoes was interested in Ivan. And were these followers some of the customers in the pub, or someone waiting outside the pub for Ivan to exit? I wonder if Beddoes was hit with his torch, in which case it seems quite opportunistic and that they hadn’t followed Beddoes or Ivan with the intention of harming them. And I wonder what happened to Ivan too, when Beddoes was knocked unconscious. I also felt it was quite an attractive description of the flats reflected in the canal water, ‘it seemed to him for a second that he was standing on the brow of a steep hill, from the invisible foot of which rose many-storeyed tenements, layer upon layer of lighted windows. Then he understood. The hill brow was a sloping bank, what he took for a void of darkness was a strip of motionless water, and the tenements reaching from the depths were the reflected backs of tall houses perched on the treeless opposite bank. Now that he looked closely he could see, so still and mirror-like was the inky surface, that in what he’d thought were lower storeys the curtains and lamps were all hanging upside down’. I really liked that, it was a very effective and quite unusually poetic description. I also wonder what Olga was so scared of from Russia, with her hiding away and never leaving the flat, was there a current threat from Russia, or was it just knowing Russia’s potential reach and how her aristocratic family were viewed there, or was she constantly worried that someone from Russia would try and steal whatever was in the trunk, and therefore was it perhaps not hers to take out of the country? And it sounds like Ivan may have boasted about the treasure to someone, presumably an ornate egg, and then when he returned to the flat and found the egg gone and his grandmother dead, he bolted as he felt he was to blame.

Nightingale meets with Majendie. He says Olga had written to him ten days ago offering jewellery and treasures for sale, and that she had sold things to him before when she first arrived in the country in the 1920s, and he also knew her from when he studied his trade in Russia in 1911 and 1912 and had visited their palace selling treasures. He says she had given him a set day and time to arrive at her room, which explains why she opened the door to him as she didn’t usually let anyone in. He says she was fearful of being taken back to Russia, he also says he suspected that the trauma of escaping Russia unsettled her mind and created her fear of being hunted. He says she first asked for cash for the treasures in the trunk but then told him he was to pay for them by sending a cheque for the value to ‘any school for the daughters of the nobility’, which is apparently a cause that historically was supported by Russian ladies, confirming again to Nightingale that she was living in the past. Majendie talks about several pieces she was selling, of which he had needed to send a list to his partners first for an accurate valuation but he promises to send this valuation to Nightingale the next day, along with her letters, but adds that the trunk also contained two rare records. Tee hee, I liked the description of Majendie as ‘a round silver teapot, spouting puffs of steam’. And it’s odd with Olga wanting the proceeds of the treasures she was selling to go to a school, even if this was what Russian ladies used to do historically, as I’d presumed she was only selling things in order to release funds to help herself, as she appeared to be living in poverty.

Nightingale hears of Beddoes being injured and visits him in hospital. They discuss the fact that Ivan wasn’t found on the bank with Beddoes, so they speculate about if he was thrown back into the canal or taken away by the attackers. They also speculate on the unlikeliness of the attackers having met Ivan by accident, and yet also how they could have known which way he was going to walk when he left the pub. But they wonder why they risked acting when they did, if they had been following Ivan from the pub, as they would have therefore seen Beddoes also following him. Nightingale has received the initial report from the pathologists who state that Olga was poisoned by sleeping tablets, and he suspects Ivan of having administered these in her morning cocoa. He also returns to Majendie’s to collect the list of items which Olga had asked him to look at, and Majendie’s partners’ valuation of these. The items include necklaces, earrings, bracelets, tiaras, rings, all adorned with diamonds and emeralds, and gold cigarette boxes, many of them Faberge. He also collects the letters which Olga had written to Majendie, which she had written in French as Majendie explains that she always used to speak to him in French. Nightingale spontaneously purchases a cameo brooch in the shop, as a Christmas present for his wife as she has just broken a favourite brooch. He also admires the young shop assistant, Stephanie Cole. Beddoes later tells Nightingale that he’s been researching more into Ivan’s background and early schooling and his favourite pubs to drink in, and has found out that a known criminal, recently released from prison, Stan Wacey, drinks at a pub which Ivan frequents so they wonder if Ivan spoke to him about his grandmother’s treasures, including the ornate egg which he seemed to be speaking about in the pub when Beddoes was watching him. They also wonder why the egg, which they presume was Faberge, as much of Olga’s other treasures were Faberge, wasn’t included on Majendie’s list, and whether Ivan made it up or whether Olga concealed it from Majendie as she didn’t intend to part with it. Later that evening, Stephanie Cole, the shop assistant from Majendie’s, comes to Nightingale’s address, returning a glove he’d accidentally left there, his wife is out and he and Stephanie chat for a while over coffee. She mentions that a shop assistant, Geoffrey, who works at the record store called Kellett’s next door to Majendie’s, often speaks to her trying to impress her with his cleverness. She also mentions that Majendie has a house in Kent, near to her family’s farm, and he has talked about a collection of treasures there and invited her over to see these when she is at her family home for Christmas. She also mentions that the cameo brooch that Nightingale bought at Majendie’s shop for his wife as a Christmas gift was heaving discounted for him, and he is unnerved by this, thinking that Majendie may have viewed the discount as a potential bribe and that this could then compromise Nightingale in the future. Nightingale later gets a coded tip from an informer of his which he interprets to mean that the robbery gang will be meeting at Richborough in Kent near the old Roman fort on Christmas Eve at 6.30pm, and that a helicopter will be involved. Oh dear, that’s a worry with there being no sign of Ivan, I wonder who has got him and why and where and what’s happening to him. And somehow I hadn’t really thought that Ivan had killed his grandmother, though the sleeping tablets in the cocoa seems to imply this, unless he meant to just put her into a deep sleep so the robbers (who he’d given the information to about the treasure) could enter the flat without disturbing her, and then was horrified to realise she had died and that he’d perhaps misjudged the quantity. And hmmm, it seems a bit odd with Stephanie going round to Nightingale’s address late at night, I wonder what she wanted from that visit, she didn’t seem to know he was a policeman although she knew he was married as he had bought a brooch for his wife while he was at the shop earlier, but she wasn’t to know his wife was out that evening and she could have potentially put herself in a vulnerable position if Nightingale hadn’t been so guarded. It didn’t really feel like she had been sent there by Majendie to gather information from Nightingale, indeed it seemed more like she had gone there without Majendie’s knowledge, as she had noted his address from the back of the cheque that he wrote in the shop and had recognised him and his car from the times when he’d visited the record shop next door, which all seems a bit strange. And I was surprised there was no egg mentioned in Majendie’s list of the items that Olga asked him to value, surely it must be a Faberge egg and surely it must exist as the book has it in its title! And sure as eggs is eggs, tee hee, I am going to have to read up about Faberge eggs on good old Wikipedia.

I’ve been puzzled a bit about the use of names in this book. Beddoes uses the name ’Vanya’ for Ivan, and I was confused by this and even thought it was a new character being suddenly introduced! But good old Wikipedia informs me that ‘Vanya’ is a diminutive of the name Ivan, and is the name of a famous play by Chekhov. I’m also interested in why the author sometimes refers to the main detective as Nightingale (his surname) and sometimes as Brett (his first name). It seems to be the surname used when he’s speaking to someone professionally, and Brett used when he’s away from work, eg at home or buying a record for himself. But the switch sometimes happens very swiftly, eg ‘Nightingale’ is giving instructions to Beddoes and then they part and it is immediately ‘Brett’. And Nightingale and Beddoes appear to have been colleagues for some time and to know each other well and trust one another enough to gently tease each other and I’d have thought they would regard each other as a friend, so I’m surprised the familiarity of ‘Brett’ isn’t used by the author when the scene has just Nightingale and Beddoes. I guess the fact that the reader gets to see him as Brett makes it seem like we are privileged to see under his professional surface. It’s interesting that the author does this though, and I’m intrigued about her reasons behind it. And now, just to confuse me further, as I flick further forward in the book looking for more examples of this name thing (though avoiding spoiling the story for myself, of course), I see that he and Beddoes are travelling together and he’s referred to as ‘Brett’ when he’s talking to Beddoes, so that’s my theory shot down! And again, when I look back to the scene when Beddoes is in hospital, Nightingale is surprised to learn Beddoes’ name (Jonathan) from his hospital notes and asks Beddoes if he knows his name, to which Beddoes answers Brett, and Nightingale corrects him saying this is his second name, so it doesn’t seem like they’re actually that friendly if they aren’t familiar with each other’s first names. And again on the subject of Nightingale’s name (and I am aware I am harping on about this a lot!), Beddoes says he remembers seeing that Nightingale’s initials are DBAN and begins to ask him what the D is for and then realisation seems to strike him and he laughs but doesn’t explain further, so what is the D for? And then Nightingale mentions something about being referred to in combination as Night and Bed, so what does this mean? Is it to do with Nightingale’s initials and if so, what am I missing as I can’t see anything particularly humorous in them? Is it that DBAN sounds like divan, and that’s the link with Night and Bed? Or is it that both Nightingale’s and Beddoes’ names, if shortened, become Night and Bed (which admittedly would be quite humorous)?

Beddoes speculates further with Nightingale on what the gang’s plans were for Ivan after the robbery, thinking they would surely have been worried about him blabbing and keen to silence him, so Beddoes wonders why they didn’t take Ivan earlier rather than leaving it till he exits the pub late at night. He also wonders if Ivan was perhaps heading to the police station after finding his grandmother dead, rather than fleeing to the gang, basing this on his view that Russians like to confess, and that Ivan then perhaps needed to build up his courage with a drink in the pub first. Nightingale shares his view that Majendie is involved with the gang, as he lives in Kent, where the robbers are due to meet according to his informer, and he is going to his home in Kent today. However, Beddoes thinks this less likely, saying that Majendie has admitted a lot to them regarding Olga. Beddoes also mentions how large the area of Richborough is and questions why the meet-up would happen at the fort when there are other suitable places, particularly for landing a helicopter, but Nightingale is firm that his informer stated that it was at the fort, and gets quite touchy about it, having already argued the point with his superior. Nightingale states he will follow Majendie to Kent by train and car, while Beddoes meets the Kent force and goes with them to the Richborough meeting place. Nightingale heads to Majendie’s to resolve the cameo brooch issue, but then decides to first go into the record shop next door in order to give him more time to think how best to handle Majendie, as he is interested in records and has visited the store many times before. While he is in the record store, an extremely wealthy record collector, Guzmann, arrives, Nightingale knows of him due to a scandal he was rumoured to be involved in. Guzmann is taken away to the back of the shop and Nightingale is keen to follow him, he does so and then hears what he thinks could be a record of Jean de Reszke being played, this was one of the records that Majendie said Olga was selling and which has been stolen. He then hears a shop assistant approaching so hurries off down the passageway and finds himself in Kellett’s garage, open to the alleyway, where he sees two vans and two men waiting, and he also notices a pair of number plates stacked against a wall. He goes back to the shop and exits that way. He passes two schoolboys and asks them to walk casually along the alleyway and note the number plates of the vans in the garage and also to look into the next garage (Majendie’s garage) if that garage door is open, and note what is in there. They return with the number plate details of the vans, and the information of the car and its number plate which is parked in Majendie’s garage. Nightingale then instructs Beddoes to watch the exits of the garages and report if any of the vehicles leave and to then follow them. He suspects that Majendie and Kellett are working together, with Olga’s treasures perhaps having been stored in Kellett’s cellars and now placed in the vans to be driven to the meet-up in Kent, and that Geoffrey talking to Stephanie is so Kellett can gain more information on items that Majendie may have. Before Nightingale leaves Beddoes, he is given some updates by Beddoes, he says that Ivan asked for sleeping tablets from his doctor as he said he was having trouble sleeping, that Ivan had asked his doctor about the process of getting his grandmother certified, and that a neighbour of Olga’s said she saw her in the street a couple of weeks ago so Beddoes presumes this was when she posted the letter to Majendie, which Beddoes adds then backs up Majendie’s statement, Beddoes making it obvious that he doesn’t share Nightingale’s conviction of Majendie’s guilt. Hmmm, I’m not really feeling like this book is grabbing me, it all feels a bit distant. Maybe it’s because I don’t know the characters, perhaps if I’d read her other books featuring Nightingale (or Brett as he is also known!) and Beddoes then I’d be more familiar with their background and personalities. And I’m not feeling like I particularly identify with or care for Nightingale, he seems quite cold to me. But I do like some of the descriptive phrases, particularly ‘the sky bore a dirty flush, like the face of a child with measles’.

Nightingale travels on the same train to Folkestone as Majendie, hidden in the guard’s van so as not to be seen. It is snowing heavily in Kent. He watches Stephanie exit the train, on the way to her family, and then Majendie exit with a small case, then Majendie offer Stephanie a lift in his car. Nightingale follows in the car he’d asked to be left waiting for him at Folkestone station, and as he follows them he wonders at Majendie picking up Stephanie if he is due to drive straight to the meet-up in Richborough, and then begins to consider if he has been too suspicious of Majendie, and wonders if the vans are still in the garage with Beddoes stuck watching them, and if he himself should abandon following Majendie and just head to Richborough, but he still feels that Majendie discounted the price of the cameo brooch for a suspicious reason. Tee hee, I chuckled at Nightingale’s train journey in the guard van with his sarcastic thought of the cramped conditions, ‘how did they advertise for guards…agoraphobes only need apply?’. And I loved some of the descriptions of the views in the snow, such as ‘a crust of snow plopped off the roof like sugar icing from a cut cake’, and ‘a plum-red bus, white-whiskered like Father Christmas’. And I am interested in the further glimpse we get of Nightingale’s character, with his self-questioning of his previously firm belief in Majendie’s guilt.

The weather worsens and the road gets more challenging with steep bends and high drops, and Nightingale is shocked to see another car very close behind him which then recklessly overtakes him. He loses sight of Majendie’s car in the thickening snow, but he turns off the main road taking the direction he presumes Majendie will take to Stephanie’s village, then his windscreen wipers give up in the thick snow so he pulls over to try and clear his screen and gets stuck in a snow drift over a ditch. He can’t free the car so sets off to walk back to the main road, presuming the chance of another car coming down this narrow lane is very unlikely. As he walks, he can barely see anything through the thick falling snow but then hears someone running close by and then sees it is a terrified Stephanie. He stops her, and she says a car was chasing them, Nightingale at first thinks that this was him in his car but then realises that it must have been the car which recklessly overtook him. Stephanie says that Majendie told her that they were after him so told Stephanie she needed to get away in order to be safe and she was to jump out of the car at the next bend when he slowed down, and he asked her to take his briefcase with her and hide it somewhere, and then go to the police. She is now worried about Majendie and keen to alert the police. Nightingale walks along with her, telling her he is a policeman himself. He has doubts whether to trust her or whether this is an elaborate plan by Majendie and the gang, using her to lead him somewhere, but he is surprised at how painful he finds it to be suspicious of her. She insists they take a path which she says is a shortcut to the main road, but then shortly afterwards admits they are lost, Nightingale thinks they are on a private road so hopes it will lead to a large house where they can get help so decides to continue on this route. They then see a man step into their path a short distance ahead. Omg, that was really quite sinister and chilling when they spotted the man at the end of their path, just waiting there as if he had been watching them and listening to them whilst hidden out of sight, it’s such a simple thing really, a man appearing where they were expecting to see a house, and yet it was so menacing to have him suddenly appear! I somehow am certain that this is someone threatening, rather than someone helpful, eeek! But I wonder how the man knew where to intercept them, it surely isn’t just chance. Was it in fact that Stephanie had led Nightingale to them? I don’t have the same fondness and willingness to think her innocent as Nightingale does.

Nightingale has been hit on the head and has lost consciousness. He gradually and painfully comes to, and hears four men arguing about what to do with him and if his presence there means that the police are onto them so their mission should be abandoned. Nightingale recognises one of them as Wacey, another he hears referred to as Tim, and another as Duster, and a fourth man unnamed who states that he is in charge. Nightingale is convinced that Stephanie engineered this and is with the criminals. He is tied up and put into the back seats of Majendie’s car, Majendie is also tied up in the back of the car, and Wacey and another man who hasn’t yet spoken are sat in the back with them. The other three men are in another car leading the way, and Nightingale presumes Stephanie is in that car too. When their car slows, Wacey suddenly slips out, Nightingale presumes that he had recognised the mission was doomed so saved himself as his associates wouldn’t listen when he told them he felt it was doomed. Nightingale speaks to Majendie about Stephanie leading him to be captured and his guess that she passed Majendie’s case to the occupants of the car chasing them, but Majendie states that Stephanie is innocent and explains that when the car caught up with him, after Stephanie had jumped out with the case, they ripped the furnishings of his car looking for the case. Majendie explains that they had taken him to an old house in the area, and they all saw Nightingale and Stephanie approaching by their torchlight and heard them talking and laughing, and that Stephanie fought with them not to be captured even though they had a gun. Majendie says the fourth man was called Geoffrey, which confirms to Nightingale his suspicion that the record store assistant is involved. He is still suspicious of Majendie, but when he speaks to Majendie about his involvement with the gang and says that the reduction of the price of the cameo brooch was what made him suspicious of him, Majendie fiercely denies this. Oh, I do feel sorry for poor Nightingale, being hit on the head, it sounds like a strong blow he received, I guess he and Beddoes were hit with the same weapon, but I feel they’re lucky not to be permanently brain-damaged, with the obvious force of the blow. And I still struggle to believe in the coincidence of Nightingale and Stephanie happening to walk in the snow to the very place where the gang were with Majendie! And I notice he’s referred to here by the author as Brett (rather than Nightingale), is this because he is feeling vulnerable, I wonder, or because he isn’t able to act in his professional role and so is just of the same unimportance in this situation as Majendie?

Nightingale then guesses that the other passenger in the back of the car with them is Ivan, which also surprises Majendie as he hadn’t realised who he was, though Ivan doesn’t confirm his identity or say anything at all. Nightingale talks to Ivan of his surmises about the case. He says that Ivan must have been fearful of his delusional grandmother, had grown up stunted and lacking in confidence from being bullied by her, had been an outcast at school and then later in the workplace because of her behaviour, had lived in poverty with her using his wages for their basic needs, and must have been always lonely and so turned to drink to escape the reality of his awful life. Nightingale says he guesses that one day Ivan came home early from work unexpectedly and discovered her with the treasures she stored in the trunk, noting especially the Faberge egg, and realised that they could have money to live on if these treasures were sold so suggested this to her, to which Nightingale presumes she refused and then told him how much she hated him as he reminded her of her obstinate son and pathetic daughter-in-law, and also told him that he would never inherit these treasures. Nightingale continues that he guesses that Ivan tried to get her certified, then thought about stealing the trunk or killing her but knew this would fail as he’d be the main suspect, and then Wacey began talking to Ivan in the pub, drawing him on to speak about the treasures, which he no doubt already knew of and this was why he’d targeted Ivan in the first place. Nightingale says he presumes that Wacey suggested a plan to Ivan, saying that friends of his could steal the trunk while Ivan was at work so he had an alibi, they could then swiftly and professionally dispose of the treasures and share the proceeds with Ivan, who could pretend he’d won the money from lucky bets. Nightingale continues, saying he guesses that when Ivan was introduced to Wacey’s friends they suggested that he give his grandmother sleeping tablets so she wouldn’t wake when they entered the room with Ivan’s key and that she probably wouldn’t then discover the treasures were gone for a few days after that. Nightingale says he guesses that Ivan agreed to this plan and gave her the sleeping tablets and the robbery took place, however the gang didn’t find the Faberge egg in the trunk, and when Ivan returned to the flat he realised that the dose of sleeping tablets had killed her as he hadn’t factored in how old and frail she actually was. Nightingale continues that he presumes the gang accused Ivan of double-crossing them, with the egg not being there in the trunk, so in despair and also at the knowledge that he had killed his grandmother, he drank heavily in the pub and then jumped in the canal, to be rescued by Beddoes and then taken by the gang who had followed him as they were concerned about him blabbing and were hoping he’d lead them to the egg. Nightingale says he believes that Ivan’s grandmother had earlier decided, perhaps being suspicious of a slight change in Ivan’s behaviour, to begin selling her treasures to Majendie who had taken away the Faberge egg, and he guesses that the gang followed him (Nightingale) from Olga’s flat to Majendie’s shop and therefore also guessed that this was where the egg was and then followed Majendie, being determined to get it back. Oh dear, poor Ivan and what a dreadful awful life he had. But we weren’t given any hint of Nightingale’s presumptions before this point, which annoys me, he just launches into this explanation of what happened with Ivan’s childhood and him being approached by the gang and what the robbery plan was and Ivan’s reactions to what happened, like the case is completed! And how did he know all this detail? Or was he just guessing and trying to draw Ivan out to confess by giving him a sympathetic angle to cling to?

Nightingale realises they have been steadily travelling in the direction of Richborough, and they then arrive, though Nightingale can see no sign of any police and wonders if they haven’t yet arrived or if his plan has been overridden and cancelled. The other gang members approach Majendie’s car and discover the loss of Wacey which angers them and they take this out on Ivan, dragging him away. They then drag Stephanie over, tied-up, and put her in the car with Nightingale and Majendie, Nightingale now realising that she is actually innocent. Stephanie apologises to Majendie, saying that one of the gang is Geoffrey and she had told him in their lunchtime chats about Majendie’s collection and his plans to travel to Kent for Christmas. A helicopter lands and then the police light up the scene, the helicopter tries to immediately take off again but struggles for some reason, hitting Majendie’s car in the process which results in a fire from the radiator of the car. The three of them frantically try to open a car door with their tied hands so they can escape the burning car, but the car door is then suddenly opened by Ivan who drags Nightingale out and, at Nightingale’s urging, takes a knife from Nightingale’s pocket and cuts the cords tying him. Nightingale swiftly heads back to the car in order to turn off the tap to the fuel tank, at great risk to himself as it could ignite at any time, while Ivan drags Majendie and Stephanie from the car. They are all then safe and Ivan walks swiftly away, but Nightingale runs after him and asks for his knife back, which Ivan reluctantly gives him. He then turns to run away but Nightingale urges him to stay and to face the police, telling him he was brave enough to come back to the car to save three strangers so he can be brave enough to face the police, and that running away would only put him back into the gang’s power. Ivan follows Nightingale’s advice and walks towards the police. Phew, that was very dramatic with the car on fire and them desperately trying to escape, and Nightingale diving back in to turn off the tap to the fuel tank! And poor Ivan, I’m so glad he bravely came back to rescue the others, and I’m relieved that Nightingale prevented him from presumably harming himself with the knife and convinced him to hand himself in. I wonder if we’ll get to know what happens to him, I really hope he isn’t heavily punished, obviously he did kill his grandmother but it was unintentionally so, and he has suffered all his life. And, inbetween the tension, I did chuckle at Nightingale’s sarcasm, when Stephanie asked if the gang hurt him and he responded with ‘they didn’t tickle’. I also liked Nightingale’s thought that Majendie was comforting Stephanie by ‘uttering sounds such as emanate from a hen house on a sunny afternoon’, tee hee.

Nightingale is later informed of what happened from Beddoes’ situation, that he leapt into the helicopter and wrestled the controls from the pilot, resulting in it hitting Majendie’s car, and he then landed the helicopter. They discuss that the pilot used to be Guzmann’s assistant and wonder if they can tie Guzmann into the robberies too, though they think they will struggle to be successful in this due to how powerful a man Guzmann is. They also discuss Ivan, and Beddoes says that Ivan had told him that he went back to the burning car because his friend was in there, and Nightingale then presumes Ivan meant Majendie as his friend and wonders again if Majendie isn’t as innocent as they had thought. Nightingale says he feels that Ivan should be charged with manslaughter rather than murder. Hmmm, so did Ivan mean that Nightingale was his friend, the only person he’s ever heard be sympathetic to the difficulties of his life? Is this what Beddoes thought too, and his exclamation of ‘sometimes I wonder…’ was at Nightingale’s failure to grasp this himself? And does this demonstrate something more about their characters, that Nightingale is quick to be suspicious of people and that Beddoes more understands human nature?

Stephanie’s father arrives to take her home but she insists on going with the police to find Majendie’s suitcase that she hid under the hedge, so Nightingale and Beddoes accompany her and Majendie back to that site, on their way to the train home. Stephanie tells Nightingale that she’d misunderstood about the price of the cameo brooch and confirms that he hadn’t been sold it at a reduced price. Majendie tells Nightingale that Olga had asked him to choose one of her treasures as a gift for himself ahead of him selling the other treasures for her, he says he was surprised at this offer and says he could have chosen a treasure of far greater value than the Faberge egg but it was this one that he admired most. He says that he’d then been worried after Olga’s death that Ivan would demand the egg back or perhaps that a solicitor could challenge the fact that Olga had given it to him as a gift, which is why he didn’t tell Nightingale that he had it. They find the suitcase and Majendie shows them the white diamond-encrusted Faberge egg, which opens up to reveal more diamonds like little stars on the inside and contains a beautiful brooch, and they are all astonished at its beauty, Nightingale calling it ‘The Christmas Egg’. Oooh, never have I wished more for pictures in a book, as I’d have loved to have seen that egg. I will have to be content with Wikipedia pictures, which are stunning. However, I’m not sure really that the title is the right one for the book, as the egg really wasn’t mentioned much throughout the story, and the term ‘Christmas Egg’ was only mentioned by Nightingale right at the end. And it also feels a bit annoying that most of Nightingale’s suspicions (and therefore my suspicions) of Majendie were based on Stephanie telling Nightingale that he’d been sold the brooch by Majendie at a discounted price, and then she says she was mistaken in this, so it just makes all that huge bit of the story seem quite pointless!

As the introduction to the book states, this isn’t really a whodunnit with twists and surprises of who the murderer is, as it was more a mystery about a robbery than a mystery about who had killed someone. There were a few things to puzzle about, namely if Majendie and Stephanie and Ivan were innocent or not, and the fact that Geoffrey was guilty may have been a surprise, but really the police knew from the start that it was the Hampstead gang and just needed to decide how best to catch them, and it was us watching that happen rather than us trying to guess which seemingly innocent person was guilty. I was also disappointed that my high hopes of the mystery of how and why a princess was found dead in poverty and squalor and how her history had led up to this, which seemed so intriguing at the start of the book, didn’t really deliver on its promise. Or perhaps I’ve missed the big twist and it’s actually a double-bluff and really Majendie and Stephanie are involved with the robbers, and Ivan did deliberately and cold-bloodedly kill his grandmother!

The introduction describes the book more as a ‘study of character’, which I guess it is, as I have indeed given a lot of thought to Nightingale’s character and what the author was trying to convey to us about him, which I have to say I’m still not totally sure about, I don’t feel like I know him any more really at the end of the book as I did at the beginning. And I am still intrigued with what the author was trying to portray with the mix of using the names of Brett and of Nightingale, and still thoroughly puzzled by the significance of his initials, and a bit frustrated to have no hint of an answer to these.

I did enjoy reading the book, as I do all the British Library Crime Classics, but I don’t think it’s one of my favourites that I will read time and again, I am a more a fan of the murder mystery whodunnit style book, and this felt more of a grittier police style book. And I also prefer books where I feel I get to know the characters. However, I am happy to try more of Mary Kelly’s books, I see there is The Spoilt Kill and Due to a Death published by British Library Crime Classics, although these don’t seem to feature Nightingale (so perhaps I am destined to never find out what his initial D stands for!). In fact, looking on Wikipedia to find out more about Mary Kelly, I see she has written three books featuring Nightingale, The Christmas Egg being the final one, so if I could get hold of the earlier two books (A Cold Coming, and Dead Man’s Riddle) then perhaps I could get an answer, but these two don’t seem to be widely available. In the meantime I think I could enjoy anticipating my next Christmas’ British Library Crime Classic read, as The White Priory Murders by John Dickson Carr (I’ve recently read my first book of his) and The Santa Klaus Murder by Mavis Doriel Hay (again, I’ve recently read my first book of hers) sound too good to resist! I do have a couple of favourite Christmas murder mystery books which I regularly read at Christmas time too, Mystery in White by J Jefferson Farjeon, and Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie. But as Christmas is quite some time away, I probably shouldn’t begin on this list just yet!

The Christmas Egg by Mary Kelly available on Amazon
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