"The Art of Detection"
(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky AUG 26, 2006)
“It was like a religious discipline with Philip. Eastern monks seek enlightenment in the contemplation of an object or a painting. Philip sought it in a focused concentration on Sherlock Holmes.”
In Laurie R. King's The Art of Detection, Inspectors Kate Martinelli and Al Hawkin of the San Francisco Police Department investigate the death of a man who was dumped, barefoot and in his pajamas, in a park near the Golden Gate Bridge. The victim, Philip Gilbert, was a well-known expert on Sherlock Holmes and his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Besides having an impressive private collection of Holmesiana, Gilbert lived in a house that looks like a Masterpiece Theatre set, complete with Victorian furnishings and objects that Holmes himself might have used. Gilbert periodically met for dinner with like-minded Sherlockians dressed in period costumes. Although he was in regular communication with fellow collectors, antiquarian book dealers, and auction houses, Gilbert was a very private person with few friends.
Kate and Al interview neighbors and acquaintances of the deceased and examine the physical evidence both in Gilbert's home and at the place where his body was found. When a manuscript turns up that may be an undiscovered work by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the stakes are raised. Could this typescript, which, if authenticated, may prove to be extremely valuable, be a motive for murder?
Kate, who is gay, lives contentedly with her partner, Lee, and their daughter, Nora. They are a warm and loving family, and although Lee is sometimes irked by Kate's dedication to her job, she reluctantly accepts the fact that Kate's work will always be a priority for her. The Gilbert homicide proves to be one of those difficult-to-solve cases that will consume a great deal of time before it is finally resolved.
Alas, The Art of Detection is a tepid mystery that consists, for the most part, of long-winded conversations between the detectives and various witnesses and suspects, and it is a slow slog indeed. The one portion of the book that comes alive is the story within a story, consisting of the entire text of a hitherto lost manuscript that may have been written by Doyle after he visited San Francisco in the twenties. The plot features a man who bears a strong resemblance to Sherlock Holmes. Assisted by an erstwhile pickpocket, he investigates the death of a soldier who had been having a homosexual affair. Kate is struck by the uncanny resemblances between the events in the Doyle typescript and the real-life murder of Philip Gilbert.
The overriding theme of the book is that intolerance and prejudice can destroy those whose love is outside of the mainstream. Unfortunately, King's heavy-handed prose detracts from the work's impact; a more subtle approach would have been welcome. The conclusion is anticlimactic and weighed down with excessive exposition. Even readers who adore Sherlock Holmes may quickly become impatient with the talkiness and sluggish pacing of The Art of Detection.
- Amazon readers rating: from 41 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Art of Detection at author's website
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
Kate Martinelli Series:
- A Grave Talent (1993) /
- To Play the Fool (1995)
- With Child (1996)
- Night Work (2000)
- The Art of Detection (May 2006)
Mary Russell Series:
- The Beekeeper's Apprentice (1994)
- A Monstrous Regiment of Women (1995)
- A Letter of Mary (1997)
- The Moor (1998)
- O Jerusalem (1999)
- Justice Hall (2002)
- The Game (2004)
- Locked Rooms (June 2005)
- The Language of Bees (April 2009)
Writing as Leigh Richards:
- Califia's Daughters (2004)
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- Official website for the Laurie R. King with lots of excerpts and a long bio
- Wikipedia page on Laurie R. King
- The Mary Russell Holmes page
- BookReporter.com review of Locked Rooms and other Mary Russell books
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About the Author:
Laurie R. King was born in 1952 in northern California, the third generation in her family native to the San Francisco area. She spent her childhood reading her way through libraries (her family moved every year so the library became her refuge), and her middle years raising children, traveling the world, and studying theology, earning a BA degree in comparative religion and an MA in Old Testament Theology.
Her first novel was published in 1993 and since then she has gained a reputation as a prize-winning, bestselling author. She has won the Edgar, Creasey Awards and MacCavity Awards and has been nominated for the Agatha, the Orange, the Barry and two more Edgars. She was also given an honorary doctorate from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific.
In 1977, she married Noel King, a man thirty years older than herself, whom she fondly describes "a peripatetic anglo-Indian professor of religious studies." They have two grown children and they currently reside in northern California, again.