Touchstone

Touchstone

by Laurie R. King

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Overview

Touchstone by Laurie R. King

Hailed for her rich and powerful works of psychological suspense as well as her New York Times bestselling mysteries, Laurie R. King now takes us to a remote cottage in Cornwall where a gripping tale of intrigue, terrorism, and explosive passions begins with a visit to a recluse upon whom the fate of an entire nation may rest—a man code-named . . .

It’s eight years after the Great War shattered Bennett Grey’s life, leaving him with an excruciating sensitivity to the potential of human violence, and making social contact all but impossible. Once studied by British intelligence for his unique abilities, Grey has withdrawn from a rapidly changing world—until an American Bureau of Investigation agent comes to investigate for himself Grey’s potential as a weapon in a vicious new kind of warfare. Agent Harris Stuyvesant desperately needs Grey’s help entering a world where the rich and the radical exist side by side—a heady mix of the powerful and the celebrated, among whom lurks an enemy ready to strike a deadly blow at democracy on both sides of the Atlantic.

Here, among a titled family whose servants dress in whimsical costumes and whose daughter conducts an open affair with a man who wants to bring down the government, Stuyvesant finds himself dangerously seduced by one woman and—even more dangerously—falling in love with another. And as he sifts through secrets divulged and kept, he uncovers the target of a horrifying conspiracy, and wonders if he can trust his touchstone, Grey, to reveal the most dangerous player of all ….

Building to an astounding climax on an ancient English estate, Touchstone is both a harrowing thriller by a master of the genre and a thought-provoking exploration of the forces that drive history—and human destinies.


From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553904482
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/26/2007
Series: Stuyvesant & Grey Series , #1
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 560
Sales rank: 368,655
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Laurie R. King is the New York Times bestselling author of thirteen Mary Russell mysteries, five contemporary novels featuring Kate Martinelli, the Stuyvesant & Grey novels Touchstone and The Bones of Paris, and the acclaimed A Darker Place, Folly, and Keeping Watch. She lives in Northern California.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


Eight days after stepping off the Spirit of New Orleans from New York, Harris Stuyvesant nearly killed a man.

The fact of the near-homicide did not surprise him; that it had taken him eight days to get there, considering the circumstances, was downright astonishing.

Fortunately, his arm drew back from full force at the last instant, so he didn't actually smash the guy's face in. But as he stood over the prostrate figure, watching the woozy eyelids flicker back towards consciousness, the tingle of frustration in his right arm told him what a near thing it had been. He'd been running on rage for so long, driven by fury and failure and the scars on Tim's skull and the vivid memory of bright new blood on a sparkling glass carpet followed by flat black and the sound of the funeral dirges that-well, the guy had got off lucky, that was all.

He couldn't even claim it was self defense. The cops were right there-constables, he should call them, this being England-and they'd already been moving to intercept the red-faced Miners' Union demonstrator who was hammering one meaty forefinger against Stuyvesant's chest to make a point when Stuyvesant's arm came up all on its own and just laid the man out on the paving stones.

A uniformed constable cut Stuyvesant away from the miner's friends as neatly as a sheepdog with a flock and suggested in no uncertain terms that now would be a good time for him to go about his business, sir. Stuyvesant looked into the clean-shaven English face beneath the helmet and felt his fist tighten, but he caught hold of himself before things got out of control.

He nodded to the cop, glanced at the knot of demonstrators forming around the fallen warrior, and bent to pick up the envelope he'd dropped in the scuffle. He turned on his heels and within sixty seconds and two corners found silence, as abrupt and unexpected as the sudden appearance of the Union workers had been five minutes earlier.

He put his back against the dirty London bricks, closed his eyes, and drew in, then let out, one prolonged breath. After a minute, he raised his hand to study the damage: a fresh slice across the already-scarred knuckle, bleeding freely. With his left hand he fished out his handkerchief and wrapped the hand, looking around until he spotted a promising doorway down the street. Inside was a saloon bar. "Whisky," he told the man behind the bar. "Double."

When the glass hit the bar, he dribbled half of it onto the cut-teeth were dirty things-and tossed the rest down his throat. He started to order a repeat, then remembered, and looked at his wrist-watch with an oath.

Late already.

Oh, what the hell did it matter? He'd spent the last week chewing the ears of one office-worker after another; what made him think this one would be any different?

But that was just an excuse to stay here and drink.

Stuyvesant slapped some coins on the bar and went out onto the street. It was raining, again. He settled his hat, pulled up his collar, and hurried away.

It had proven a piss-poor time to come to London and talk to men behind desks. He'd known before he left New York that there was a General Strike scheduled at the end of the month, in sympathy for the coal miners. However, this was England, not the States, and he'd figured there would be a lot of big talk followed by a disgruntled, probably last-minute settlement. Instead, the working classes were rumbling, and their talk had gone past coal mining into a confrontation with the ruling class. The polite, Olde Worlde tea-party dispute he'd envisioned, cake-on-a-plate compared to some of the rib-cracking, skull-smashing strikes Stuyvesant had been in, didn't look as if it was going to turn out the way he'd thought, either-not if men like those demonstrators had their way in the matter.

And God, the distraction it had caused in this town! One after another, the desk-bound men he'd come to see had listened to his questions, then given him the same response: Does this have anything to do with the Strike? Then please, I'm busy, there's the door.

Yeah, that miner had been damned lucky, considering.

Maybe when this next one showed him the door-Carstairs was his name, Aldous Carstairs, what kind of pansy handle was that?-maybe that would be where his temper broke. Maybe the bureaucrat would get what the demonstrator hadn't.

He couldn't help feeling he had reached the bottom of the barrel when it came to a straightforward investigation. Certainly, he held out little hope that Carstairs would do more than go through motions-he'd heard of the man more or less by accident the previous afternoon, sitting across the desk from a Scotland Yard official he'd met in New York years before. Now an exhausted and harassed-looking official in a day-old shirt who, even before the inevitable tea tray arrived, was sorry he'd let Stuyvesant in.

"No, I've already talked to that man," Stuyvesant told him, in answer to a suggested contact. "Yeah, him, too. And him. That idiot? He was one of the first I saw, and frankly, the sooner he retires, the better off your country will be. No, that guy's in France, and his secretary's useless. Now, him I haven't talked to, where-Scotland? Jesus, do I have to go to Scotland to ask about a man who lives in London?"

"I should give you to Carstairs," the Yard official muttered, then immediately regretted the slip and hurried on. "What about-"

"Been there. Who's this Carstairs fellow?" Stuyvesant's instincts had come alert, aware of some overtone in the way the man said the name, but the fellow shook his head.

"Just a name, honestly, he doesn't have anything to do with what you need. I think you should go talk to . . ." Stuyvesant was soon out the door, holding nothing more than three names on a slip of paper.

Outside the office door, a pair of men in bowlers sat waiting. Stuyvesant nodded to them, collected his hat and overcoat, and walked down the hallway and around the corner. There he stopped, staring unseeing at the scrap of paper.

Give you to Carstairs. Not, Give you Carstairs, which would have suggested the resolution of a grudge, but a phrase with a touch of fear in the background: I should feed you to Carstairs.
Stuyvesant counted to thirty, then doubled back to the Yard man's office. The two men were nowhere in sight when he walked in, and the secretary was just settling back at his desk.

"Sorry," the American said, "I neglected to get a phone number. Just let me pop in-"

"I'm sorry, sir, he has another appointment."

"Oh, I'll just be-wait, maybe I could get it from you instead? The name's Carstairs."

The secretary looked blank for a moment and Stuyvesant resigned himself to a dud, but then the man's eyebrows shot up. "Aldous Carstairs?"

"That's the man. You have a phone number for him?"

The secretary's glance at the closed door was eloquent testimony of the unusual nature of the request, but reluctantly, he went to a book in the bottom drawer of his desk, opened it to a page at the back, and copied out a number.

"Thanks," Stuyvesant told him, and that was how he found himself running ten minutes late on a pouring wet Friday afternoon, a bloody handkerchief around one hand and a sodden scrap of paper in the other, searching for an address that he finally located in an utterly anonymous building a stone's throw from Big Ben.

Chapter Two



The doorman took one look at the figure that lurched into his tidy foyer and moved to return the straying lunatic to the streets. Stuyvesant pushed down the impulse to deck another Brit and summoned his most charming, lop-sided smile, assuring the man that he did, in fact, have an appointment with Mr. Carstairs, although he'd had a little accident, if he could just phone . . . ?

Without turning his back on the disheveled American, the doorman went to his desk to pick up his telephone. He spoke, listened, grunted, and hung up.

"If you'll just wait a minute."

It was less time than that when a weedy specimen with freckles and twitchy hands came through the connecting door and stopped dead. He looked at Stuyvesant, and at the doorman (who gave him a What-did-I-say? shrug), then stood back, holding the door.

"Mr. Carstairs?" Stuyvesant asked.

"His secretary," the man replied. "The Major is expecting you."

He led the sodden visitor through a hallway and up a flight of stairs to a dark, highly polished wooden door. Inside, he took Stuyvesant's hat and coat, hung them over the radiator, and went to the desk, where he pushed a button and said to the air, "Mr. Stuyvesant." He got the pronunciation right, Sty rather than the usual Stooey.

The response five seconds later was a click at the inner door; the secretary came back around the desk and opened it. Stuyvesant stepped into the dim office.

The man behind the desk was in his early forties, slightly older than Harris Stuyvesant, and smooth: dark, oiled hair, the sheen of manicured fingernails, a perfectly knotted silk tie, and nary a wrinkle on his spotless shirt. A visitor's gaze might have slid right off him had they not caught on his striking eyes and unlikely mouth.

The eyes were an unrelieved black, with irises so dark they looked like vastly dilated pupils. They reminded Stuyvesant of a wealthy Parisian courtesan he'd known once who attributed her success to belladonna, used to simulate wide-eyed fascination in the gaze she turned upon her clientele. Personally, her eyes had made Stuyvesant uneasy, because they'd robbed him of that subtle and incontrovertible flare of true interest. This man's eyes were the same; they looked like the doorway to an unlit and windowless room, a room from which anyone at all might be looking out.

The man's mouth, on the other hand, was almost obscenely generous, full and red and moist looking. His lips might have made one think of passion, but somehow, a person could not imagine this man lost in a kiss.

When he put down his pen and rose at Stuyvesant's entrance, the American saw the third element to the man's visage: a twisting, long-healed scar down the left side of his face, hairline to collar.

Stuyvesant walked forward, forcing his gaze away from the scar and onto those ungiving eyes. The scar was nothing, after all, compared to some of the damage he'd seen that week, seven and a half years after the war to end wars-although it looked more like the work of a knife than a bayonet. The man held out his hand; in response, Stuyvesant lifted the once-white rag.

"You probably don't want to shake this," he said. "I had a little altercation on the way here with one of your miners. I'll try not to bleed on the carpet."

The dark gaze studied the makeshift dressing, then shifted to Stuyvesant's clothing, and the man's nostrils flared just a touch-why the hell had he stopped for that drink, Stuyvesant asked himself-before he reached for the telephone on his desk.

"Bring some sticking plasters please, Mr. Lakely," Aldous Carstairs said.

The secretary came in carrying a small box. Carstairs lifted his chin at Stuyvesant's hand, and Lakely efficiently stripped away the handkerchief, wiped away the blood, applied the sticky bandages, and gathered the debris, without a word being exchanged.

"Our guest would probably like a coffee," Carstairs said. Stuyvesant might have hugged him, then and there, had he not noticed that, the entire time the secretary was in the office, he didn't look at his employer once. I should feed you to Carstairs.

Not a huggable kind of a guy, Aldous Carstairs.

When the door was shut again, Carstairs held out his hand, starting anew. Stuyvesant took it briefly, grateful the man didn't bear down: his whole hand had begun to throb.

"Aldous Carstairs," the man said.

"Harris Stuyvesant. Thanks for seeing me."

"Do sit down, Mr. Stuyvesant. What can I do for you?"

And for the twelfth-thirteenth? No, fourteenth time-Harris Stuyvesant launched into his tale of woe, which repetition had long since stripped of anything resembling urgency, or even interest: terrorist bombs, Communist plots, ho hum.

He began, as he had thirteen times already, by laying his identification on the man's desk, along with the brief letter from Hoover, which said little more than Harris Stuyvesant was an active agent of the United States Justice Department's Bureau of Investigation, and any assistance would be appreciated. The letter was showing signs of wear.

Carstairs directed his unrevealing regard on the lines of typescript and the signature, then back to Stuyvesant, who gathered away his possessions and began his spiel.

"Like it says, I'm an agent with the Bureau of Investigation. I've come over here, unofficial-like, because we're looking into some possible links between a series of bombs in our country and one of your citizens."

The coffee came then. Both men waited for it to be laid out and the secretary to leave.

"There are, hmm, official channels," Carstairs noted.

"Sure, and sometimes they're fine, but sometimes they're not." Stuyvesant listened to his own voice, and wondered why he was sounding like some small town hick-He'd very nearly said "ain't." Act like a Bureau agent, he ordered himself, not some bloody brawler marching into this fellow's nice office at three in the afternoon stinking of booze. He took the envelope from his pocket, seeing for the first time the scuff of someone's shoe on its crumpled flap, and removed the contents. One at a time, he unfolded each and laid it in front of the man.

"Last July, there was a fire-bomb at a Communist house in Chicago." He gave Carstairs a minute to look over the outline concerning the fire, then topped it with a newspaper clipping. "In November, a Pennsylvania judge in charge of a sensitive Union case nearly got himself burned to a crisp when his car went up in flames." Another piece of paper: "And in January, five men in a New York hotel room narrowly missed getting blown to pieces. The newspapers haven't put the three together yet, but it's only a matter of time."

He sat back and let the man look at the pages. Three explosions, one gelignite, two incendiaries, all packaged in unexpected but carefully thought out containers. The target of the first one still didn't make much sense, unless there was some rivalry-personal or political-that the Bureau hadn't picked up on, but one confusing motive was the least of his problems.

When he'd reached the end of the pages, Carstairs lifted those dark holes back onto Stuyvesant.


From the Hardcover edition.

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Touchstone 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Otter_of_the_Universe More than 1 year ago
If you are familiar with Laurie King's work, you will recognize her deft touch in this book -- strong characterization and plot, and a compelling mystery are all hallmarks of hers. Along the way there are fascinating glimpses into British intelligence, WWI, and class issues. She really brings history alive in a way that makes one aware of how union strikes and post traumatic stress affected everyday people. But as integral to the plot as all of these things are, the central focus is always on individuals, and individual relationships. We learn how the landed gentry live and love, we can experience the wild beauty of the English countryside. And meanwhile we can feel the mystery growing ever tighter, ever closer to what we are sure will be a horrific climax. Little clues are dangled here and there, but it's difficult to tell who is really pulling the strings. My only quibble was with a certain portion of the ending, which I wasn't sure was entirely believeable. But that may just be a personal preference. It was still a satisfying book, and anyone who loves England, and Cornwall in particular, will enjoy the setting immensely. Though King is an American, she captured perfectly exactly what I personally love about England and English people. I would recommend this novel highly.
harstan More than 1 year ago
By April 1926 although several years have passed since the armistice ended the combat the United States and England are still recovering from the War to End all Wars. Three bombs went off in a relatively short time in the United States causing much damage and killing innocent people. Harris Stuyvesant is determined to catch the bomber, not because he is a Bureau of Investigation agent but because one of the devices turned his favorite brother into a vegetable. He tracks the evidence to up-and-coming charismatic leftist politician, Richard Bunsen.----------------- Trying to get close to the man he plays five degrees starting with meeting Aldous Carstairs who sends him to a former patient of his Bennet Grey whose sister Sara is friendly with Lady Laura Hurleigh who is Richard¿s lover. Bennet was injured in the war and came through with certain abilities. He is a human lie detector and has a sense of what people are thinking and planning. He agrees to go with Harris to a Hurleigh weekend party. Tensions are high because the miner¿s are going on the strike and a general strike is planned to bring the government down. Lady Laura is planning a weekend where the two sides can talk away from the noise of the public and media but there is another agenda being played, one Harris intends to stop.---------- TOUCHSTONE is a thick juicy story that shows England between the two world wars and how the government feels about the unions. Harris is in England to bring vigilante justice to the bomber and ends up falling for Sarah. He comes to care for Bennet and tries to rescue him from Carstairs clutches. Carstairs wants to be the power in the shadows that steers England on a course that seems acceptable on the surface but is deviously deceptive. Laurie R King creates fascinating characters and places them in several subplots so that the reader understands what motivates them.--------- Harriet Klausner
Lizzie-B More than 1 year ago
The characters are fascinating, and King is a gifted writer. This is one of her best works of historical fiction. Write on, Ms. King!
Joycepa on LibraryThing 5 days ago
Laurie King is one of my favorite authors; her Mary Russell series continues to charm. Set primarily in the post World War I era, the series has given King a solid background in the era. She uses this expertise in Touchstone, a stand-alone thriller set in England in 1926.At that time, there was a great deal of political unrest, much of it labor-related, in both England and the US. This was the time of the Wobblies, Emma Goldberg, and the anarchists. Sacco and Vanzetti had just been unjustly arrested (and would be callously executed) for political crimes they did not commit, thanks to the rising hysteria in the US about political terrorism. Harris Stuyvesant, an agent of the relatively young US Bureau of Investigation (newly headed by J. Edgar Hoover), has been involved in political investigations for some time. In the past year or so, three seemingly unconnected cases of cleverly-placed bombs have absorbed his attention, especially since one of them, and the ensuing riot, was the cause of his younger brother Tim¿s severe brain damage and resulting loss of memory and ability to function. Stuyvesant believes that there is an English connection¿that the bomber came from England. Faced with skeptical superiors, he travels to England on his own to see if he can track down this elusive terrorist. The story takes place over a few weeks in April. The cast of characters is a rich and varied one, from the members of the one of the most blue-blooded families in England to a shadowy sadistic ¿Major¿ in Intelligence to another member of the aristocracy, Bennett Grey, whose war injury has left him with a peculiar and terrifying hypersensitivity to sensations and to people, to the point in which he is a veritable Truth Tester, able to tell instantly whether or not a person is lying.King centers the plot just before the Miner¿s Strike and General Strike in England in 1926. She weaves a great deal of information on labor troubles and political repression in England into the plot, as well as interesting facts about political investigations in the US at that time, too. She also gives a very fine view of the aristocracy¿not all inbred, empty-headed chuckleheads by any means¿and in particular of those upper-class women who dedicated themselves to assisting the poor. I found this particularly interesting, as I had completed, not long before, His Family, the 1918 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction by Ernest Poole, one of whose major characters is exactly such a woman in the US. King writes in a much easier fashion, but the parallels are there and are striking.This should have been one of King¿s finest books, but except for the last 30 pages¿which are as thrilling and page-turning as any she has written¿the book just didn¿t quite hit it off for me. Maybe my expectations were too high. But I have the feeling it was the characters¿they just didn¿t seem to come off. I could not get under the skin of the protagonist, Stuyvesant, and too many of her English characters seemed mechanical. In particular, Bennett Grey was just plain unbelievable for me.Yet King¿s prose is as good as ever and the matrix of the plot¿the political and labor unrest in England¿is very well done¿not intrusive in any way but a very vital part of the story. There are some polemical speeches, but deliberately so, and King makes us aware of this in her characters. So even that way of imparting information is part of the plot.I think King¿s finest novels are her stand-alones. A Darker Place is my all-time favorite, one that I reread every so often. Touchstone is good, but in my opinion is one of her second-tier books.
dfnojunk on LibraryThing 5 days ago
Laurie King is one of my favorites. She introduces all new characters in this 1920s novel about an American FBI agent who goes on a hunt in England for a terrorist.There are many parallels between 1920s England and present-day US.It was a little long, but I read every word and enjoyed them all. My favorite quote is "Changing political parties is like putting rouge on a corpse.", or something to that effect.
meditatinglibrarian on LibraryThing 5 days ago
Laurie R King continues to be one of my favorite authors. This is not one of her series titles, but an excellent stand-alone historical suspense/thriller. I love King's use of language, and I get "hooked" by her characters almost immediately.
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HerbM More than 1 year ago
Very well written, too much character development, short on action.
Alagria More than 1 year ago
I usually love Laurie King's books (except the Mary Russell series). I was disappointed with this one. The plot was predictable, the ending absurd. Frankly I found this book rather boring.
teacupreader More than 1 year ago
I have read nearly all of Laurie R. King's books and was so disappointed that Touchstone did not live up to her other work. The story and the characters are interesting enough, generally speaking, the problem is editing. The book could easily have been 100 pages shorter and none the worse for wear - in fact, I'm certain I would have enjoyed it far more if it had been. I like a good descriptive narrative style as much as the next person, but does the reader need to know what every leaf and rock at Hurleigh House look like? I'm glad to be done with Touchstone and look forward to the next King volume which I hope will show this volume to have been an aberration.
Olene More than 1 year ago
Laurie King has shown again that females are capable of anything that can be imagined. The characters were well drawn and sympathetic. The American came across a little too slow at times, did not fit with other things he did. All in all, a good read
readerRR More than 1 year ago
I would like to see this set of characters again!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Entertaining but well below her best. The story line seems to plod rather than sparkle, and it was hard to really care about her characters. This is the first book by Ms. King about which I could say this, and I believe that I have read them all. Still, it remains mildly entertaining.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago