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::: Touchstone (King)

Laurie King's Holmes/Russell books are among my all-time favorites (the banter is world-class, Gaudy Night Wimsey/Vane-style repartee) but I can't get into her contemporary detective mysteries with Kate Martinelli, so I figured there was a 50-50 chance I'd like Touchstone, set in England of 1926.  Happily it turned out to be pretty good, although the person that the blurb identifies as the main character (Grey) turns out to get much less ink than the American detective.  And Grey's mysterious talent seemed irrelevant to most of the action, since the big American (whose name escapes me) figures out most of the plot on his own, so it wasn't clear what his character's purpose was.  Said detective is in Britain to investigate the possibility of British anarchists (early-20th-century terrorists) crossing the pond to make things go boom in the US; he has a personal grudge as his girlfriend was killed when a wagon filled with homemade explosives blew up outside a New York City bank six years ago.  It got a bit long-winded at times -- a few passages where the descriptions were a bit overdone and the American's navel-gazing was sometimes wearying; a few times I wanted to just shout, "GET ON WITH IT!!"  The incredibly obvious red herring of the Tiepolo picture was pretty humorous -- he's madly looking for anything unusual that might be a bomb, says -- out loud! -- "Hey, that picture wasn't there yesterday," and then DOESN'T pull the thing off the wall and go over it with a fine-tooth comb LOL!!  Not bloody likely.   But the milieu of England between the wars was well-done, both the nobs (big country estate, weekend house-parties with drunken candidates for upper-class twit of the year and the obligatory gay guy) and the London scene (the miner's strike, tying the radicals in with Sacco and Vanzetti, etc).   The ending had a suitable twist that wasn't telegraphed ahead of time; indeed it was almost not supported, though that's mostly because the American detective persisted in looking in the wrong direction.

In a very bizarre example of what-are-the-odds-of-that, two days after I finished this book, Newsweek ran a story about -- guess what -- the wagon full of homemade explosives that blew up outside a New York City bank in 1920 (their point was that terrorism isn't new to New York; if that was intended to make us feel better about wingnuts with explosives, it didn't work for me...)  I didn't even know this bank bombing was a real event, and there it was, twice in one week.  I love oddities like that, and they seem to happen frequently.  Last time was when a colleague loaned me Pat Barker's The Eye in the Door and I encountered Siegfried Sassoon and his distaste for war.  Less than a week later I was reading something entirely different which included a passing mention of S.S. which would have made no sense to me had I not just read the Barker book.  Must be an occupational hazard of being a voracious reader.



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