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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Thursday, June 10, 2004

A Grave Talent by Laurie R. King. New York: St. Martin's Press: 1993. ISBN: 0312088043.

For quite some time I've been devouring Laurie King's Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes novels, and raving about them here in my blog (see my entries from January 12, April 3 and May 4), so I finally decided it was about time I read one of her OTHER mysteries, which feature the modern San Francisco police detective Casey (Kate) Martinelli. This is the first one, and in fact, King's first published novel.

Having just finished it, I can only say, "Wow!" Very impressive for a first effort. And King definitely has me hooked. I'm a fan, and will have to read the rest of her work as I can find the time. Of course, my reading habits won't let me splurge on a whole run of any one author's books in a row, but I'll fit one in every month or so.

I still have her latest Mary Russell novel (The Game, 2004) to read, but part of the reason I switched series was that while my local library system, Timberland Regional Library, has 14 copies of The Game, there are 48 holds on them. I won't even bother putting a hold on myself until the number of outstanding holds drops down close to the number of copies.

It is hard to define what it is about some writers that the instant you start reading, you feel like she (or her characters, which amounts to pretty much the same thing) are old friends, people you care about, and want to be with. But whatever it is, King has got it, for me at least.

Sometimes even King goes a little too far, however, even though it still makes for delightful reading when she does. Take the scene in which her partner, the more experienced ranking officer, Alonzo (Al) Hawkin meets up with the precocious Jules and her stunningly beautiful mother (p. 244). King is describing the two of them as genius types even before they have had a chance to really demonstrate what they are. This whole scene is like a little set piece: now we're going to provide a beautiful woman for the OTHER half of the detective team to fall in love with. Everything is exaggerated for effect. But you (the reader) don't really mind, even though you see right through the pretence.

Now why do I have such a totally opposite reaction to this story from how I felt about Dennis LeHane's Darkness, Take My Hand? We have the same kind of twisted psychotic sociopath at work here. I think it's because Lehane doesn't just have ONE of these twisted characters, but a whole raft of them, with more popping out of every page. And because the violence here is almost entirely either second-hand, or confined to the searing final pages of the book, not encrusted into practically every chapter. At any rate, I can't recommend King's work highly enough.


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