Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Loving Laurie

I love most books written by Laurie King. Her wife-of-Sherlock-Holmes (Mary Russell) books are good enough to make me buy them as soon as they come out, because I know I'll want to reread them. And her Kate Martinelli mysteries have always been absorbing and well-written. So when her new novel, Touchstone, came out this winter, I ordered it from Amazon on my bed, waited anxiously for it to come, and began reading it as soon as my son brought it in to me. I was disappointed in it, and decided to take some time before I thought about why. Part of it is that it's a fairly gloomy book, and since I was recovering from a knee replacement and it was the dark month of February in Ohio, I was not in the mood for much more gloom.

Looking at it again, though, I find it weighted down by the enforced gravitas of the subject matter, the uneasy balance of international affairs in the time between the two world wars (after the War to End All Wars). Somehow this translates to the writing, which is as heavy and ponderous as the subject. Here's a sample, picked by opening the book to a random page:

"The following ten months had been fraught with the knowledge that time was short, that life would never be the same, that their friends and family were being swallowed up in the carnage across the Channel. And finally, in July 1915, Bennett had come to her house, wearing his uniform and an expression of manly apprehension. She had wept; he had laid his hand across her shoulders and pulled her to his woolen chest, then given her a clean handkerchief and vowed that he would come back to her."

I mean, really. You have to wonder if Laurie decided it was time for her to write a "serious" book after all those frivolous mysteries. Maybe getting the Lambda prize for the latest Kate Martinelli stirred it up in her. I don't know. But she needs to get back in the entertainment business, because this kind of writing does not become her.

I want the Laurie I love back. The Laurie who writes like this (the following is from the random page I opened to when I opened up the Mary Russell book The Moor):

"'Come along, Russell. You mustn't avoid your host simply because he is a rude old man. Besides which, he has quite taken to you.'
'I'd hate to see how he expresses real dislike, then.'
'He becomes very polite but rather inattentive,' he said, holding the door open for me. 'Precisely as you do, as a matter of fact.'"

Michael Chabon points out in his essay "Fan Fictions on Sherlock Holmes" (included in Maps and Legends), that "fans and nonbelievers alike seem to feel compelled to try to explain Sherlock Holmes' lasting appeal" and after his own (quite satisfactory) effort to explain it, he concludes that "all novels are sequels; influence is bliss."

That's what I'm missing from you, Laurie. Take yourself less seriously. Let me love you again.

Laurie King's Mary Russell books:

Kate Martinelli mysteries


CSchum said...

I love Laurie King's books, too. But I really like the Mary Russell books much better than the Kate Martinelli books. I have become quite fond of listening to these. There are some very good versions read out loud.

My current favorites are the matched pair of Oh, Jerusalem and Justice Hall.

Given your review, I am hesitant to ask, but can I borrow Touchstone?

Karen said...

Laurie King is a favorite of mine, too! I haven't tried _Touchstone_ and likely won't anytime soon now that I've read your commentary. I love the Martinelli and Russell books, though. Marvelous.

C--I found the pair of O Jerusalem and Justice Hall wonderful, but I find that I almost never choose to reread Justice Hall. It's both too real and too...unfair. Too tragic. Too intense in the losses suffered.