This review was originally published at http://www.thebookbag.co.uk in August 2013 and was subsequently also published on ciao.co.uk on 16/03/2015 and on Goodreads on 23/02/2015
Laurie R. King may be best known for her Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series, but she has also written a number of other novels, a couple of which feature detective Harris Stuyvesant. With the publication of the second in this series, the first ‘’Touchstone’’, originally published in 2008, has been republished, allowing those readers new to Stuyvesant, or even to King herself, to become properly acquainted.
It is 1926 and Harris Stuyvesant is an agent with the US Bureau of Investigation, chasing a suspected bomber onto UK soil. His brother has been seriously injured in an explosion caused by his suspect, so Stuyvesant’s wish to apprehend the bomber is entirely personal. However, due to his evidence against the suspect being quite flimsy, Stuyvesant has had to come to England on his own time and has been refused permission to make this an official Bureau investigation.
This means Stuyvesant finds it hard to find any official assistance in England, until he finds Aldous Carstairs, a man of uncertain role and pedigree, but one who is prepared to help. Even more so once he discovers that Stuyvesant’s suspect is Richard Bunsen, a man quite important when it comes to organising the upcoming General Strike, but also associated at one degree of separation with Bennett Gray, a former soldier and someone who Carstairs has a particular interest in, but not a terribly friendly one.
There is a huge amount of historical detail happening within the book, thanks to the setting against the backdrop of the upcoming General Strike and not too many years after the end of World War I. Whilst the characters may be fictional, the history is quite real and it sets the time period perfectly. The language used is perfectly set to the time period as well, reflecting the slower pace of life of nearly a century ago.
This did cause a problem with the book for me, in that I felt that the book as a whole was perhaps a little too slow paced. With a story that dates back as far as this one does, I can accept that a certain amount of background is required. In this case, however, I felt that there was a little too much politics in relation to how much story there was. For much of the early part of the story, I was wondering when it would really get going.
This then affected the ending, which seemed to happen in a bit of a rush compared to the rest of the book. Whilst there was a minor twist towards the end, it felt a little disappointing and wasn’t particularly stunning enough to offset the slow pacing of the main part of the novel.
It is a shame that this aspect of the book wasn’t fantastic as it was very well written. The characters were vivid and well presented and the settings were wonderfully described. The language was in keeping with the time period and, indeed, with the pace of the story itself. Throughout the book, the quality of the writing was very high, it was only the pacing that let things down a little.
In ‘’Touchstone’’, Laurie R. King has shown that she is indeed a very talented writer when it comes to coming up with an idea and for putting that down on paper and that the list of awards she has were well deserved. However, it does seem that her pacing needs a little work, as what was a story that started with a bomb had a little too long a fuse and turned out to be a bit flat. ‘’Touchstone’’ had all the ingredients for an explosive read, but King’s gunpowder got a little wet. However, it’s well worth taking a punt on, especially as the series does improve.