Laurie King's first Kate Martinelli mystery, A Grave Talent
, won Best First Novel honors from both the Mystery Writers of America and the British Crime Writers' Association. In this fourth installment in the series, King once again displays her talent as both a prose stylist and a masterful plotter in a case that proves to be personally harrowing for her heroine.
While attending a school play one evening, Detective Martinelli gets what appears to be a routine page about a homicide. The murder victim is James Larsen, an airport baggage handler found in the Presidio, handcuffed, strangled, and with stun-gun burns on his chest. And apparently he had a sweet tooth, given the candies found in his pocket. When it comes out that Larsen was an abusive husband whose wife now lives in a shelter, Martinelli's list of suspects takes a distasteful turn. Could the perpetrator be connected with the Ladies of Perpetual Disgruntlement, the group of secretive women (or men) who've lately been terrorizing abusers and rapists around the city with their humorous, updated version of the tar-and-feather treatment? Could it be Larsen's wife, a mousy woman who, nonetheless, is clearly harboring some secrets? Could it be Roz Hall, Martinelli's social crusading feminist minister friend? In each case, rage would be justified, but not murder.
When two additional murder victims with similar profiles--and pockets full of candy--surface, the San Francisco media takes an interest in this latest instance of vigilante justice. The investigation is further complicated by Roz's very public interest in the case of a young Indian bride who she believes was murdered. As Martinelli and her partner Al Hawkins try to sort through the mire of emotional entanglements, personal politics, and public scrutiny, King deftly maneuvers her tale through several carefully crafted turns. The novel is also threaded with Hindu spirituality and images of the dark goddess Kali, a vengeful figure perfectly appropriate in a novel about victimized women striking back. --Patrick O'Kelley
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From Publishers Weekly
The multitalented King (O Jerusalem, etc.) has not published a Kate Martinelli novel since 1996's With Child, so fans aplenty have been waiting for the next installment in this acclaimed series. San Francisco police detective Kate and her partner, Al Hawken, first introduced in the Edgar-winning A Grave Talent, have been called in to investigate the murder of a man who turns out to have a long record of beating up his wife. The wife, who took refuge at a battered women's shelter, has a rock-solid alibi and there are no other obvious suspects. Meanwhile, a group of feminist vigilantes called the Ladies of Perpetual Disgruntlement has been exacting wickedly funny acts of minor revenge against men who physically abuse women. Kate has a sneaking sympathy for the work of the Ladies, but when more bodies of abusive men start turning up, it looks as though someone--some woman--in San Francisco has taken the ultimate step in vengeance. King brings her theme of women's rage against abusive men together with a focus on goddess worship, especially in Indian religions. Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction and creation, figures largely in this dense and suspenseful tale. As in her powerful thriller A Darker Place, King's ability to turn esoteric religious concepts into key narrative points makes this a highly unusual--and memorable--novel. It suffers a bit from talkiness, but even so, it's a compelling, effective piece of writing. (Feb.)
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