Monday, November 19, 2012

To Play the Fool: Laurie R. King

The Kate Martinelli mysteries by Laurie R. King feature a policewoman as the main protagonist and they deal with crime, but the stories are not about typical cases. At least not the two I have read most recently. While I was on my trip to Alabama I read the 2nd and 3rd books in the series: To Play the Fool and With Child.

It is difficult to review the books in the Kate Martinelli series because I cannot say much about the characters and some elements of the plots without revealing major plot points in the first book in the series. The first book, A Grave Talent, is a more conventional story of a hunt for a serial killer. That book won the 1994 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

In my opinion, the books in the series should be read in order. In a sense, each is self-contained, and could be enjoyed on its own. Regardless, I am going to keep my comments on the plots and the characters fairly general because I don't like to reveal spoilers for previous books.

What I like about the Laurie R. King mysteries is her style of writing. She pulls me into the story immediately, she keeps me interested and she tells a good story.  My interest never drops off. On the negative side, in this book, I felt like the theme of the book overpowers the story and there is little of the mystery plot left. It isn't that I did not enjoy the book, but I would have preferred a stronger integration of themes and mystery plot. The positive side of her different approach to these mysteries is that she isn't writing the same book over and over.

In To Play the Fool, the victims and the possible culprits are in the homeless community, and we get a look at homelessness in San Francisco. Another major theme is the Holy Fool in religion, which is a topic that the author has heavily researched. Both of these themes is very interesting, and I was entertained (and educated) throughout, but the mystery took 3rd or 4th place here and the resolution was a let down to me.

The Fool in this novel is Brother Erasmus. He has a following both among the homeless in the park and at the University of California, Berkeley campus. He is a very charismatic man, and appears to be harmless. Yet he is a suspect in the murder of another homeless man in the park.

The author describes her character at her website:
One of the distinct characteristics of my particular Fool is that he speaks in the words of others. When asked a question, Erasmus retrieves a quote from the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, Shakespeare, or a number of other sources and applies it to the situation at hand.

This makes the job of a police interrogation somewhat tricky.
Kate Martinelli and her partner, Al Hawken, want to question Erasmus and determine if he could be the murderer, but are stymied by his behavior. Kate spends a large part of the book researching this character and his behavior.

I highly recommend this book. I usually don't have problems with mystery novels where the mystery is secondary, but in this case I think that was overdone. Regardless, I think it is a worthwhile read. Many reviewers had no complaints in that area.


Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Tracy, thank you for bringing Laurie R. King and her mysteries to my notice. Modern-day mystery writers are getting innovative. An author's writing style often keeps me glued to his or her book even if the plot and characters have long escaped my interest.

TracyK said...

My pleasure. King is an interesting author who tries different approaches and puts a lot of effort into her books. I am trying to finish this five book series by the end of the year.

neer said...

What a coincidence. I was gifted this book only two days back. Have never read King but after reading your review would like to read her.