BOTTOM LINE: Murder at a stuffy museum brings Lt. Sigrid Harald into rather more contact with artsy-fartsy types than she really wants, but she does solve the case and learn to work better/easier with her subordinates, never an easy thing for her. Maron still shows Sigrid growing and very slowly changing, and it's beautifully done. Here she also adds a sad, twisted murder mystery with lots of turns and back-tracks. Extremely good stuff. This series just keeps getting better.
The Eric Bruel House Museum is one of those extremely specialized, hidden-away little gems in New York City that not many folks know about but is appreciated by the few. Unfortunately their funding is drying up and they need to get more publicity/cash-inflow ASAP. Christmastime is one of the best times to visit the Bruel House, an almost perfect late Victorian mansion simply stuffed with art and artifacts that the Bruel family brought back with them from European tours circa 1860 through 1900. The Bruel does Christmas up very beautifully, in the Victorian manner, with an immense tree and hundreds of glass ornaments that belonged to the lady of the house, garlands and swags and carols, etc. The trustees believe it would be a good time to make up a new brochure for advertising purposes and bring in one of the trustees' grandsons to do the photography. He meets and becomes friends with the live-in janitor, a quiet, hard-working, mentally-challenged young man, with an angelicly beautiful face. When the nastiest trustee is found bludgeoned to death after having embarrassed pretty nearly everybody present at a Christmas Party via wild and lurid insinuations, the investigation soon begins to center around Rick the photographer, and Pascal, the handyman.
Mixed in with a seemingly basic timetable plot (who left when, who came back, who went down to the basement, etc) is the tale of two mummified babies found in a trunk in a poor neighborhood; both cases come to Sigrid, and are followed during the novel, although the majority of the story surrounds the Bruel investigation. And there are some nice bits of Sigrid and her lover Oscar, a great painter, who seems to know everybody in the art world, and everybody seems to know and is impressed by, him. Shy, quiet Sigrid is still having difficulty acclimating to the rareified atmosphere surrounding Oscar, but their relationship is growing steadily.
Maron balances all the bits nicely, and also factors in a couple of extra nice storylines, including a historical one about the Bruel family and their possible acquisition of some early 20th century art masterpieces; this leads to a particularly effective side-plot concerning an old, reputable gallery that's been connected with the Bruel House for decades. All the pieces come into play by the end, interwoven and twisted back and forth, paced nicely, with frequent enough changes of viewpoint and plot thread, until by the end the ultimately sad, but complete, solution is revealed. A rather autumnal, mellow sort of story all-in-all, but beautifully done. First-rate plotting, great settings and lots of detail (some of it very funny), and we also get to watch Sigrid slowly unbend a bit more - wonderful!