Thursday, March 13, 2014

Touchstone: Laurie R. King

Laurie R. King is well known for her Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series (12 books so far). Her first book in the Kate Martinelli series, A Grave Talent (1993), won the best first novel awards from both the Mystery Writers of America and the Crime Writers Association. If you want to know more about the author and her novels, check out her website.

Touchstone (2007) was originally written as a standalone novel. The book is set in the UK in 1926 and the story centers around the weeks leading up to the general strike. Harris Stuyvesant is an agent of the United States Justice Department's Bureau of Investigation, and he has arrived in England to track down the man responsible for terrorist bombings in the US. In London, he is introduced to an intelligence officer named Aldous Carstairs, who is willing to work with him in order to further his own ends. Along the way, Stuyvesant meets a victim of shell shock in Cornwall, Bennett Grey. Grey and his sister have ties to an aristocratic family, the Hurleighs.

I love the way King tells a story. She writes beautiful prose. She creates interesting characters that are fleshed out well. Even minor characters have interest and background. I have read four other books by her and they have all been engaging stories. Some of them focused too much on issues, too little on the mystery plot. This story does center around terrorism, and King has stated that she was exploring what turns people into terrorists (see this post), but the book is primarily an entertaining story set against the backdrop of serious events in history.

I cannot find any negatives in this book. I could complain that it is too long (548 pages). But that would only be because I like shorter books. While I was reading and after I finished, I could find no deadwood in this book that I would cut or pare down. I think each part leads up to the next and is necessary. It never gets boring.

The main protagonist travels from London to Cornwall. He spends time in the rural areas around Oxford. I am geographically-challenged and for once I actually felt like I knew where the locales were (there was a map in the book).  I now know where Penzance is (a port in Cornwall, the most westerly major town in that county). The Pirates of Penzance is a favorite Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera in our household and I guess I knew it really existed, but I had never pictured it.

See this page at the author's site for background information on the settings. If you like historical fiction, and don't mind some elements of a conspiracy thriller, I heartily recommend this book. It now has a sequel, The Bones of Paris (2013).

23 comments:

  1. Tracy - I like King's style too, and I'm glad you've reminded me of this one, which I've not (yet) gotten the chance to read. She's very skilled with weaving history into a story without overburdening it, I think.

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    1. Great, Margot, I hope you get to it soon.

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  2. I love most of Laurie King's work, most especially her Holmes and Russell series, as you may know since I tout it often enough. :) But I also loved THE BONES OF PARIS - recently reviewed. You liked TOUCHSTONE more than I did, Tracy. I wonder what you'll make of THE BONES OF PARIS - I highly recommend it. Very dark, very moody. A bit different.

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    1. Yvette, it was your review of Bones of Paris that prompted me to read this book which I had around for three years. I wanted to read it and then read Bones of Paris. I am sure I will like it equally as well.

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  3. I'm from Penzance and I can tell you she got her descriptions of the area absolutely spot-on. I really liked this books a *lot*.

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    1. Cath, I was looking at photos of Penzance when I was finishing up my post yesterday and it looks beautiful. Glad to hear she got it right. This is a great book.

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  4. I love your blog for showing that good crime stories can be told in many different ways. My novel THE BISHOP’S GRANDDAUGHTERS is a case in point. For instance, if you like James Patterson’s thrillers, you will love THE BISHOP’S GRANDDAUGHTERS, where when investigating certain missing pages in the family Bible that had come into her possession, Rev. Viola Flowers learns of a grisly double murder in 1910. Was her beloved grandfather, an esteemed bishop and founder of her church, involved in those terrible murders? Making the story extra alluring is the fact that the central character is female.

    Will Gibson

    http://www.amazon.com/Bishops-Granddaughters-Will-Gibson-ebook/dp/B009V3UALQ/ref=la_B008TE5ZR2_1_2_bnp_1_kin?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1389736291&sr=1-2

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  5. I think you liked Touchstone more than I did. I love King's Kate Martinelli series, and I've read two of the Mary Russell series, and they were fine.

    I just couldn't get into Touchstone, although I tried. I am intrigued by the Bones of Paris. I'll have to try it even though "dark" isn't my thing. I'd like to compare it to Imogen Robertson's The Paris Winter, which I on my TBR mountain.

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    1. Kathy, I think the reason I liked this so much was because it read like an espionage novel. Also the setting and the time period. I will be reading Bones of Paris too. This year, I hope. So many books to read.

      I have not read any of Imogen Robertson's books yet, although I have a couple to read. I did not realize she had written a stand alone novel and it does sound good.

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  6. Well, you have completely sold me on the idea of rading King's work now! Thanks TracyK - nothing better than hearing such enthusiasm on a chilly morning!

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    1. Sergio, I do hope you like King's novels. She has quite a following, especially with the Mary Russell series.

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  7. Tracy, I have heard of this author, but never been tempted to try her. Probably not the book to make me change my mind.

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    1. Col, I don't think you would hate this book, but neither do I think you would love it. Although she is not what I consider a cozy writer, there is not much grit or violence in her books.

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  8. I am reading the Bones of Paris right now and am liking it. King has a wonderful way of describing things and places which pulls you right into her stories. The Mary Russell books are favorites and this novel has a really similar feel to it in some ways.

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    1. Mary, I have only read one of the Mary Russell books, but I have several in the series so I will be trying more of them. I do love the way she writes.

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  9. I very much like Laurie King - I once went to hear her give a talk on her books and she was riveting. Occasionally I find the books a bit long - I find that what I said about this one was 'Very compelling to begin with, but long and repetitive and weird POVs - action seen from different people, but adding nothing. Good enough though.' - but then I'd have high standards for King, I was more enthusiastic than that sounds. The Bones of Paris sounds very interesting.

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    1. Moira, have you read a lot of her Mary Russell books? I keep trying to get back to those but am not strongly motivated to do so.

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    2. I have read quite a few, but find the later ones quite long and not as riveting as the early ones. I am a bit behind with the series now, I know what you mean about not being motivated.

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    3. That is good information, Moira. Most of the books I have are early in the series, so I will try a couple of those.

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  10. Nicely reviewed, Tracy. I've a weakness for beautiful prose even if the story or the characters don't hold up. I, too, have heard of the author though I haven't read any of her work.

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    1. Me too, Prashant. If the writing pulls me in, I can forgive a lot.

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  11. Hopped over from the Chunkster Challenge.

    This would fit right in with British-themed reading year!

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    1. Joy, I will keep British Isles Friday in mind for future Fridays. I do read a good bit of fiction set in the UK.

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