on May 13, 2003
The fourth book in the Kate Martinelli series, "Night Work" is a suspenseful, dark, briliantly written mystery. The story centers around a series of murders with only one apparent connection-the victims are all perpetrators of violence against women. However, like "A Grave Talent," the story is far more dense and complex than it seems.
This was the last book I read for a Women's Studies class entitled Murder Mysteries, and the second by Laurie King. The class focused on gender and violence, and I think this book was a fitting end to the class because it focuses on crimes that are specifically gendered, namely rape and wife battering. The book poses a number of hard questions for those of us readers who consider ourselves opposed to violence. First, when, if ever, is violence acceptable? What kind of violence? Perpetrated by whom, and for what reasons? Violence against women is clearly unacceptable, but is violence against those who are violent acceptable? I am 100% opposed to capital punishment and other forms of violence, but I found myself unwittingly tolerating, and almost agreeing with, the vigilante type murders of violent men who escaped the criminal justice system. When I realized this, I was shocked at myself.
I found the use of Kali and indeed the idea of Kali herself fascinating. First, King's use of Kali creates a somewhat mystical, mysteriouis atmosphere to the book, which I found very effective. From reading the Introduction, in which Kali is described, we know that she must have something to do with the novel, but we are not sure what, until the very end of the book. King keeps us guessing, with a quote from "The Invocation to Kali" at the beginning of every chapter. We know that there must be some connection between Kali and the murders, but we are never sure exactly what it is. I was captivated by this book because I wanted to know the truth about the murders, and what Kali had to do with it all. I had a hard time putting the book down, fascinated by this aspect of it.
This book had a profound effect on me. At one point, Kate reluctantly realizes that there is an energy force present in all of us-a force of both destruction and creation. Perhaps that explains why I did not disagree with the violence in this book. Though, once revealed, the symbolism of Kali seems somewhat heavy-handed, it made me question myself, and the nature of violence overall.
on March 3, 2003
After a few dozen pages of this book, I realized that I had read it before or at least had started it in some bookstore. I certainly couldn't remember how it ended so the journey was not impaired. Much of Laurie King's work can be characterized in a feminist vein, but none so much as this book. And in Laurie King's hands, feminism is a not-always-pretty, but always-present element in the lives of the women who populate this pages. This had a powerful effect on me. I found myself cringing at things I should have been applauding and completely taken in because of my own personal stereotyping. This was not a comfortable read (so many of Laurie King's books are not) but it was a good and necessary journey. As with some of Thomas Perry's books, we find ourselves understanding the motivations of people who do things we absolutely cannot condone. Having said all that, it is good to be back in the same orbit with Kate Martinelli and Al Hawkin and their assorted cast of friends and lovers.
on April 28, 2002
King's work in the Martinelli series certainly sits on the above-average end of the scale in comparison to the vast majority of other works available in this genre. Thankfully it does have a reasonable plot that does have a little more substance than that which one usually finds. What I did find disappointing however was the representation of some of the characters. It is always interesting to see characters who are depicted as having a point of view on various issues, however, I found it a little tedious when these character traits crossed the line and came to resemble little more than soap-box speeches. A little more effort in character development and presentation may have overcome this. As it was, the opinions put forth on behalf of the characters began to be predictable and 'preachy'. A lot could have been done with the examination of the issues presented in this book, unfortunately King seems to have missed this grand opportunity, opting instead for the 'easy-out' of re/presenting easily-digestible and non-confronting images and ideas. Pity.
on October 19, 2001
It's been a long wait for the next episode in the Kate Martinelli series. On the whole, Night Work was worth the wait though it is far from perfect (or even the wonder of "A Grave Talent").
After the vague mystery of "With Child", it is refreshing to return to the police procedural foundation and a healthy dose of Kate's police partner, Al. I also got a kick out of the early crimes of the Ladies of Perpetual Disgruntalment. The core of the murders reads well between the pure evidence and the abusive history of victims. I particularly enjoyed the exploration of the marriage traditions of India when set in the US. The writing is good - if lacking a bit in the editing.
What didn't work for me in the book was the overwhelming sense of political correctness. I'm fine with the lesbian relationships but King got both preachy and redundant in this story. Likewise, this isn't the first time that she's explored religious themes. However, at times this book reads more like a piece of feminist religious propaganda trapped in a mystery. Sure, some of it figures into the plot but about 20% of the book seemed pretty irrelevant to either solving the crimes or growing the key characters. Likewise, the ending is pretty abrupt without clearly exploring the motivations of the killers (and not very many clues leading up to their identification).
As other reviewers have mentioned, this is a series that is critical to read in order. This is the forth book in the series.
on July 27, 2001
but the research -- or lack of it -- hurts the book terribly! One of the reasons I'm a great admirer of King's is that she usually has fascinating intellectual themes, meticulously researched and beautifully woven into the plot. There is one such strand in this book: the scary information about present-day bride burning. Unfortunately, King seems to have assumed she already knew the answer to the perenially frustrating "Why do women stay?" question, but she doesn't. Indeed, the author seems as fogged as Kate about this, so that the issue lacks the insight and compassion King usually brings to her stories. The irony is that, if she'd done her work and read any one of the basic books on this topic, she'd have found a wealth of *really* terrifying information that would have snapped her plot into shape in no time. She'd have had a sharp focus for the relationship of bride burning to other forms of violence in the home, the violence against women that is such a strong theme in the Old Testament, and, ultimately, a better grounding for a good cop's belief that we can't afford to tolerate any form of vigilantism, even when it's sadistically funny.
I really enjoy delving into Old Testament interpretation, but this, too, was hampered by King's inability to line it up with her plot twists...and she was so close! Try reading Diamant's "The Red Tent" and you will see the richness and connections King missed with this.
I found the relationships among the characters compelling enough to keep me glued to the book, even when my mind was groaning at the cliched response to battering, so I don't think King's writing has lost any of its punch (so to speak). I'm hoping the next Martinelli will involve topics King knows she has to investigate thoroughly so that this series will get back to its usual standard.
on May 13, 2001
I started to read Laurie King because I loved Sue Grafton and Janet Evanovich but had run out of titles - a friend recommended her as another author I would like - and I think I do but this is the first of her books I have read and I don't think it was a good place to start.
The Kate Martinelli mysterys - of which this is one, seem to be very personal and there is a lot of history in them which would, I think, make more sense, if I had started with the first book in the series - which I think is called "A Grave Talent.". Either way all the crimes Martinelli is involved in seem to directly affect her, her partner or her friends.
So back to the story - Kate Martinelli is called in to investigate what seems to be the work of a serial killer. A man is found hand-cuffed, strangled and dumped - soon two other bodies appear. The only link seems to be that they have been involved with abusing women in some way (rape, murder, wife-beating). There are suspicions that this might be another step in the work of a women's vigilante group the 'Ladies' who have been humiliating these sort of men in the past - are they now murdering them?
It is certainly hard to find any sympathy with the victims of these crimes and Martinelli and her partner Al Hawkins are troubled by this - its an interesting dilemma in itself - but made far more personal when Kate meets two of the victims, a young husband suspected of a crime of murdering his wife, and a convicted child-molester who survives an attempt on his life.
As I said in the beginning, this seems more of a thriller than a mystery - perhaps because I am not used to mysteries I didn't feel that it would be easy to figure out given the clues available although there were plenty of suspects. I did enjoy King's writing, she has a nice easy style and the story really flows along.
on January 27, 2001
Like all Laurie King's books so far, this one is worth reading, but I thought it was the weakest of the lot. One reason is the depiction of Roz, a central character. She is something close to a cult leader: arrogant, manipulative, and irresponsible. She is also supposed to be charming and charismatic, but that does not come through adequately in the book, leaving this reader, at least, puzzled as to why other people, including Kate Martinelli, the protagonist, like and admire her.
A further problem is that the solution to the killings of the Indian bride and her husband leaves too many loose threads; the reader cannot tell what parts of the chain of events that lead to the killing were part of the plot. The motive, while suggested, is never entirely clear. And at least some of the evidence that distracts the reader from the correct solution depends on a coincidence.
One final point links to the previous book, where Jules, the precocious stepdaughter of Kate's partner, is kidnapped by her biological father while travelling with Kate. Jules' mother (Jani) apparently suspects Kate, at least initially, of having arranged the kidnapping herself (Kate is a lesbian, although her friendship with Jules is entirely non-sexual), and clearly blames her for it. In the resolution it becomes clear not only that Kate is not at fault but that Jani is; the father would have been the obvious suspect if Jani hadn't pretended that he was dead and maintained the pretence even after the kidnapping, thus seriously hampering the efforts, largely by Kate, to locate the kidnapped girl. In this book we are told that both Kate and Jani continue to blame Kate for the kidnapping, which seems to make very little sense.
on August 3, 2000
I wish the payoff were anywhere near as big as the setup. At first I'm grinning and chuckling and intrigued about the incidents, and half of the crimes are witty "pranks" which have me going yeah, yeah, this is really gonna be good. And something mysterious and sinister happened in India, we find out, out of the blue, yeah, okay, and there's a battered-women avenger loose, maybe two, and I can't wait to see someone punished for that bride burning, and then ... nothing.
Maybe the sinister whatever-it-was is being saved for another book, but there was absolutely no satisfaction there, not even as a red herring, and come ON, the villain's going to do THAT to someone and expect to explain it away, and a perp's just going to walk in at the right moment to wrap up your detecting for you?
King is a good writer, she really is, but. She repeats things that don't need repeating --do we need to be told *four* times in one book that her lover's crutches are the cuffed, permanent kind? Why "wrapped candies" over and over, not "candy"--would we be likely to miss the point that there might be fingerprints, even after she told us so? Does she find the characters fascinating or just useful to the plot?
Looks like she got rushed or bored about halfway through and didn't bother to finish this book, anyway. I don't really like these people well enough--they are interesting, but as social constructs, not as humans--to enjoy spending this much time with them for no reason. I want to keep the first part and send the rest back for a refund, or a re-write.
on July 5, 2000
In this her fourth Kate Martinelli mystery, author Laurie R. King puts her heroine right in the middle of some real 'hot button' feminist issues: spousal abuse; the impotent judicial system; arranged marriages; and vigilante revenge. Kate and her likeable partner, Al Howkin, are homicide detectives in San Francisco, America's most gender-tolerant city. Kate's domestic life is running smoothly, with her partner Lee recovering from paralysis. Seems a bullet intended for Kate ended up in Lee's spine in a previous story, and she's still using crutches and suffering psychologically from her wounds. In this book, Kate is called to the scene of a murder that smacks of a feminist vigilante group known as The Ladies of Perpetual Disgruntlement. The LOPD, as they call themselves, have recently pulled some pretty mean-spirited pranks, but they've never been linked to a murder..until now. After three more bodies pile up, Kate and Al realize the crimes are an organized, well planned effort to rid San Francisco and the Bay area of criminals who have, in one way or the other, defiled women. It's up to Kate and Al to put the pieces of the puzzle together and stop this deadly movement. The book, as a murder mystery, is pretty much boiler plate fiction. The body count mounts. There are the requisite red herrings. The FBI gets pulled into the case when Kate finds a link between the murders and the Internet. The author even throws in cross-cultural clashes to spice up the mix. What sets this book apart, however, is the way the author almost clubs the reader with never-ending feminist themes. I'm not sure if she does it to make the reader sympathetic with Kate and her lifestyle or to give the reader an introductory course on Feminism 101. And, given the author's considerable knowledge of theology, she overplays the religion card with constant references to the Old Testament, Hindu scriptures and God's gender. Not all of us who live outside the Bay area are ignorant belles with husbands who protect us from the seamier side of life. Some of us have actually known a lesbian or two..some of us have worked in a women's shelter..some of us have volunteered our time at a local rape crisis center.and some of us have actually survived a destructive relationship. My advice to Laurie R. King: LIGHTEN UP! Kate is a likeable person with many of the same flaws we heterosexuals have. Don't compel us to like her/sympathize with her.just let her solve crimes and live her life! We'll catch on.
Terry H. Mathews Reviewer
on April 14, 2000
Like a lot of her fans, I have been waiting for Laurie King to even up the balance between her two detectives. Now that she's got the score back to 5-4 (Mary Russell leads by one), we can give her a free choice of which one she writes for next.
I have read all the books in both series, and this one does not fall short in any way. "Night Work" is exciting, emotionally involving, and intellectually stimulating. What more can you ask from a novel? With "Night Work", Laurie King retains her place on my top shelf of thriller writers alongside Elmore Leonard and Robert Parker. Reservations? Just a couple of minor ones. I did feel that outside of the inner circle of both Kate's partners and their households, the characters were not as vivid as in the earlier novels in this series. People like the Mehta family and Roz Hall were not given much space for development. And the ending was a bit pat for me as well. As with "A Darker Place", (published immediately prior to "Night Work"), I felt that the middle was more exciting than the end.
But Laurie King is such an overachiever. Not many writers would be able to produce two such different series, and she shows no sign yet of falling below her own high standards.