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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Touchstone by Laurie King

Touchstone by Laurie King. New York: Bantam Books, 2008. ISBN: 978-0-553-80355-6

Ah, another novel from one of my favorite contemporary authors, Laurie King! What a pleasure it is to be caught up once again by her inimitable style and perfect touch. Touchstone is another standalone story, not part of her Martinelli or Mary Russell series. That's its only drawback, if drawback there is to be found here. Fortunately for us, a note at the end of the book informs us that Ms. King is currently at work on the next Mary Russel novel, which will be her ninth. I can't wait!

This story takes place in Great Britain, in that transitional period between the two World Wars. The coal miners are about to strike, and a general strike has been called in sympathy. Labour has the government, but could fall. A decisive clash of ideologies and interests is possible. Will England turn communist? Or fascist? Or will some middle ground of rationality be preserved?

Into this volatile mix comes FBI agent Harris Stuyvesant, seeking an itinerant bomber, a Brit who has traveled three times to the U.S. leaving bombs in his wake, one of which killed Stuyvesant's fiancée, giving him a more than slightly personal interest in the case. He has a suspect, Richard Bunsen, currently high in the strikers' council, formerly a demolition expert in the first World War. And now he suspects that Bunsen's American bombs were mere practice for his ultimate target, the top leaders of Britain, in an act intended to foment terror, and topple traditional British society into anarchy.

Tracking Bunsen takes him into the company of Laura Hurleigh, duke's daughter, and the inner circles of British aristocracy. His “in?” Bennett Grey, who grew up with the Hurleigh's, and was even engaged to Laura, until his injuries in the Great War made it impossible for him to associate with people in a normal fashion. He was almost blown up by an artillery shell, should have been killed, but instead, somehow lived, but with a new kind of sense and sensitivity. His entire nervous system and sense of consciousness was somehow turned inside out. People affect him directly and intolerably. He can read their body language, their emotions, their real thoughts behind what they say, in an almost supernatural way. And this sensitivity is like 10,000 times worse than the proverbial fingernail scratching a blackboard. It is absolutely intolerable to him, and forces him to flee to the very tip of England where he lives in virtual solitude.

Grey's sister, Sarah, works with Laura Hurleigh and Richard Bunsen. Sarah is an attractive young woman, and Harris naturally falls in love with her. All of these lines fall a bit too close for reality, but we're willing to suspend our disbelief at least a little, especially for Laurie King. She makes it all seem plausible enough, if not downright inevitable.

The plot hurries along to its dramatic and ever intensifying conclusion, but not without at least one significant twist to the plot that will most likely catch you by surprise. I've left out some of the complications, but I don't have time to list them all; how Stuyvesant gets "in" with Bennett Grey being one of them. But if you care at all for King as an author, you'll be reading the book for yourself!

As usual, highly recommended!

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