George V. Reilly

Review: The Art of Detection

The Art of Detection
Title: The Art of Detection
Author: Laurie R. King
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Publisher: Bantam
Copyright: 2006
Pages: 495
Keywords: mystery
Reading period: 23-25 August, 2007

Laurie R. King is best known for two series of detective novels. One stars Kate Martinelli, an SFPD inspector living in present-day San Francisco with her lesbian partner, Lee, and their young daughter, Nora. The other is set in the 1920s and is written in the voice of Mary Russell, the young wife of the still-active sex­a­ge­nar­i­an, Sherlock Holmes.

Here, King ties both series together. Martinelli in­ves­ti­gates the murder of Philip Gilbert, the doyen of the local Sher­lock­ians, who recently came across a manuscript that seems to have been written by Holmes himself, describing his in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the murder of a gay soldier in San Francisco in 1924. (The last Mary Russell novel, Locked Rooms, left Russell and Holmes in Russell’s native San Francisco in 1924.) Even in Russell’s time, most people believe that Holmes is fictional; in fact, Conan Doyle was Dr. Watson’s literary agent. Martinelli and her con­tem­po­raries all believe that Holmes was fictional, while King’s readers suspend their disbelief and "know" otherwise. Gilbert’s body is found in the same military bunker in the Marin Hills as the gay soldier in the story-within-the-story. This can hardly be a co­in­ci­dence and Martinelli’s attention focuses upon the local Sher­lock­ians.

King deftly ties together her two series, while poking some gentle fun at the weirdness of the more obsessive fans. Martinelli is a strong, believable, no-nonsense character, with a time-tested loving re­la­tion­ship with Lee and a long-time working re­la­tion­ship with her fellow detective, Al Hawkin. Holmes is his usual brilliant yet annoying self in the inner story, as he penetrates into the demimonde of trans­ves­tite chanteuses and male pros­ti­tutes. Martinelli is bright, but she’s no Holmes, and the outer story is closer to a standard police procedural.


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