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.
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.