Laurie King took First Novel honors from both the Mystery Writers of America and the British Crime Writers' Association with her first Kate Martinelli mystery, A Grave Talent. Now, in her fourth book in the series, King brings the low-key, lesbian homicide detective from San Francisco to bear on a mysterious killer or killers in Night Work. This time out, Kate's job will be complicated by the fact that the victims are hard to mourn and the suspects include several close friends.
The first victim is found handcuffed and strangled, brought down by a Taser gun whose burn mark is evident on his chest. When Kate and her partner, Al, are called to the scene they quickly make several interesting discoveries. First, the victim has a record of spousal abuse, and his wife is currently holed up in a battered women's shelter. Might she be the killer? Second, his pockets are filled with an odd assortment of candy.
When the victim's wife proves to have a watertight alibi, attention is given to a local vigilante group known as the Ladies of Perpetual Disgruntlement, or the LOPD, whose amusing tactics have branded several known rapists and abusers about town. Wearing a huge scarlet letter on your chest or being tarred and feathered is nothing compared to this group's idea of modern-day vengeance. But while humiliation of the victims has reigned supreme, prior to this all the victims have been left alive, even if a few might have wished otherwise.
When a second murder victim turns up with a virtually identical wound and violent past, not to mention pockets filled with candy, Kate becomes even more convinced that the LOPD or some offshoot of the mystery group is responsible for the murders. This victim is a known rapist who has escaped conviction several times on technicalities or a lack of evidence. Recently he attacked a neighbor woman, beating her severely because she had the audacity to take the parking place he thought of as his. And a mysterious, unsigned note is delivered to the beaten woman's apartment, implying that her tormentor, and others like him, will hurt no one again.
While investigating these killings, Kate is also pulled into a different murder case involving a young Indian woman whose arranged marriage brought her to America, where she acquired a slow-witted husband and the in-laws from hell. Her fiery death a short time later appears to have been an accident, but an autopsy soon shows otherwise. Kate's investigation quickly becomes embroiled in the cultural implications involved with the age-old Indian custom of wife-burning. And on the vigilante serial murder case, she is dragged into the radical feminist political nest engendered by a woman minister who is a close friend of both Kate and her lover. When the two seemingly disparate cases begin to cross paths, Kate is plunged headlong into a deadly plot with national repercussions and an interesting twist that could have been ripped from today's headlines.
King, whose other series mystery features Mary Russell, a young, exuberant protégé of Sherlock Holmes, has a knack for creating strong, intriguing heroines and entertaining plots. Her deft juxtaposition of humor and terror, along with several provocative moral dilemmas that paint the crimes in shades of gray, allows Night Work to satisfy on a number of levels at once.
Washington Post Book World
Rich, multi-layered storytelling that informs while it entertains.
San Francisco police inspector Kate Martinelli finds herself investigating a series of murders with an intriguing set of common factors, the most obvious of which is that all of the victims are men accused of physically assaulting women or children. Kate and her partner, Al Hawkin, navigate a perilous tour of local feminist groups, women's shelters, religious cults, and cyber-radicals to track the killer. King (A Darker Place) once again gives the reader a superbly structured plot played off a set of intellectually stimulating characters whose bold philosophical stances and varied professional backgrounds result in confident and often unexpected behavior. Fans of the three previous Martinelli books will be gratified to witness the continuing evolution of relationships among the recurring characters while newcomers will easily find their way into this suspenseful tale.--Nancy McNicol, Hagaman Memorial Lib., East Haven, CT Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
"King is a deft and literate writer whose work never fails to please....A superior novel."
The San Diego Union-Tribune
"A dense and suspenseful tale. Memorable."
"A richly feminist book in which King demonstrates again her remarkable skills in sinking the reader into a special culture/community where her many-layered stories unfold."
Booknews from The Poisoned Pen
"King is very, very good at looking society in the face and reflecting on the way it is now."
The Boston Sunday Globe
"As with all Laurie King's books, the facts tell only the smallest part of the truth....King exposes the issue with intensity and passion. It's hard to turn away even if you wanted to."
Read all the novels by Edgar and Creasey award winner Laurie R. King!
Kate Martinelli Mysteries:
A Grave Talent
To Play The Fool
Mary Russell Mysteries:
The Beekeeper's Apprentice
A Monstrous Regiment Of Women
A Letter Of Mary
And her stand-alone novel:
A Darker Place
Available from Bantam Books
And coming soon in hardcover:
Read an Excerpt
It is a place of skulls, a deathly place
Where we confront our violence and feel,
Before that broken and self-ravaged face,
The murderers we are, brought here to kneel.
Kate Martinelli sat in her uncomfortable metal folding chair and watched the world come to an end.
It ended quite nicely, in fact, considering the resources at hand and the skill of the participants, with an eye-searing flash and a startling crack, a swirl of colors, then abrupt darkness.
The lights went up again, parents and friends rose to applaud wildly, and twenty-three brightly costumed and painted children gathered on the stage to receive their praise.
The reason for Kate's presence stood third from the end, a mop-headed child with skin the color of milky coffee, a smile that lacked a pair of front teeth, and black eyes that glittered with excitement and pride.
Kate leaned over to speak into the ear of the woman at her side. "Your goddaughter makes a fine monkey."
Lee Cooper laughed. "Mina's been driving Roz and Maj nuts practicing her part--she wore one tail out completely and broke a leg off the sofa jumping onto it. Last week she decided she wasn't going to eat anything but bananas, until Roz got a book that listed what monkeys actually eat."
"I hope she didn't then go around picking bugs out of tree trunks."
"I think Roz read selectively."
"Never trust a minister. Do you know--" Kate stopped, her face changing. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a vibrating pager, looked up at Lee, and shrugged in apology before digging the cell phone out of her pocket and beginning to push her way toward the exit and relative quiet. She was back in a couple of minutes, slipping the phone away as she walked up to the man who had been sitting on her other side during the performance and who was now standing at Lee's elbow, watchful and ready to offer a supporting hand in the crowd. Lee's caregiver spoke before Kate could open her mouth.
"What a pity, you're going to miss the fruit punch and cookies."
She rolled her eyes and said low into Jon's ear, "Why it couldn't have come an hour ago . . ."
"Poor dear," he said, sounding not in the least sympathetic. "'A policeman's lot is not a happy one.'"
"If I find you a ride, would you take her home?"
"Happy to. I'll be going out later, though."
"She'll be fine." Now for the difficult part. "Lee," Kate began. "Sweetheart?" but groveling did not prove necessary.
"You're off, then?"
"Liar," said Lee cheerfully. "But you've been a very brave honorary godmother, so now you can go and play with your friends. That was Al, I assume?"
Kate and her partner, Al Hawkin, were on call tonight, and in a city the size of San Francisco, a homicide was no rare thing. She nodded, hesitated, and kissed Lee briefly on the cheek. Lee looked more pleased than surprised, which Kate took as a sign that she was doing something right, and Kate in turn felt gratified beyond the scope of her lover's reaction--their relationship had been more than a little touchy in recent months, and small signs loomed large. She stepped away carefully, looking down to be sure she didn't knock into Lee's cuffed crutches, and walked around the arranged folding chairs to congratulate Mina's adoptive parents. They were surrounded by others bent on the same purpose--or rather, Roz was surrounded by a circle of admirers, this tall, brown-haired, slightly freckled woman who was glowing and laughing and giving off warmth like (as one article in the Sunday Chronicle had put it) a fireplace of the soul.
When she had read that phrase, Kate had wondered to herself if the reporter really meant that Roz was hot. She was, in fact, one of the most unconsciously sexy women Kate knew.
Kate hadn't seen Roz in a couple of weeks, but she knew just looking at her, the way she gestured and leaned toward her audience, the way her laugh came and her eyes flashed, that Roz was involved in some passionate quest or other: She seemed to have grown a couple of inches and lost ten years, a look Kate had seen her wear often enough. Or it could have been from the fulsome praise being heaped on her by the other parents--all of whom, it seemed, had seen a television program Roz had been on the night before and were eager to tell her how great it had been, how great she had been. Roz threw one arm around the school principal and laughed with honest self-deprecation, and while Kate waited to get a word in, she studied the side of that animated face with the slightly uncomfortable affection a person invariably feels toward someone in whose debt she is and always will be, an ever-so-slightly servile discomfort that in Kate's case was magnified by the knowledge that her own lover had once slept with this woman. She liked Roz (how could she not?) and respected her enormously, but she could never be completely comfortable with her.
Roz's partner, Maj Freiling, stood slightly to one side, taking all this in while she spoke with a woman Kate vaguely remembered having met at one of their parties. Maj was short, black-haired, and--incongruously--Swedish; her name therefore was pronounced "my," forming the source of endless puns from Roz. Most people who knew Roz assumed that her quiet partner was a nonentity whose job was to keep house, to produce brilliant meals at the drop of Roz's hat, and to laugh politely at Roz's jokes. Most people were wrong. Just because Maj spoke little did not mean she had nothing to say. She was the holder of several degrees in an area of brain research so arcane only half a dozen people in San Francisco had ever heard of it, and they in turn were not of the sort to be found in Roz's company of politicians and reformers. It seemed to Kate a case of complete incompatibility leading to a rock-solid marriage, just one more thing she didn't understand about Roz Hall.
Kate looked from one woman to the other, and gave up on the attempt to reach Roz. Maj smiled at Kate in complicity as Kate approached. Kate found herself grinning in return as she reached out to squeeze Maj's arm.
"Thanks for inviting me," she said. "I was going to come to the party afterward, but I got a call, and I have to go. Sorry. Be sure to tell Mina she was the best monkey I've ever seen."
From the Paperback edition.