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Touchstone    by Laurie R. King order for
by Laurie R. King
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Laurie R. King is one of my favorite mystery authors for both her historical Mary Russell and contemporary Kate Martinelli novels. She introduces new - and equally intriguing characters in Touchstone, which I hope is only the first of many in a new historical series. The story opens in 1926 England, which is in the throes of very serious labor unrest, with a General Strike imminent.

Readers find out what is happening alongside American Bureau of Investigation Agent Harris Stuyvesant, who has crossed the Atlantic on the trail of an anarchist who has set off several bombs in the United States. Stuyvesant's younger brother Tim was part of the collateral damage. Harris suspects the British 'Labor Party's fair-haired boy', Richard Bunsen, of being the bomber. He has had no luck winning cooperation from preoccupied officials until he encounters Major Aldous Carstairs, an unpleasant character who wields a great deal of power in the world of Intelligence, and takes pleasure in manipulating people and events behind the scenes. Carstairs eyes 'looked like the doorway to an unlit and windowless room, a room from which anyone at all may be looking out.'

Carstairs sees the American agent as a means of getting a man with a very special talent back in his power. Bennett Grey was severely injured and permanently changed by a wartime explosion, which has left him incredibly exposed to sensation, but also with the ability to know 'things he should not be able to, as if he sees into people' - he is a touchstone who reveals others' true natures. Carstairs exploited Grey for a while in his pet project, but Grey eventually fled to a remote cottage in Cornwall. Grey's sister Sarah works closely with Richard Bunsen and his lover, Lady Laura Hurleigh. Carstairs will use the possibility of his sister's involvement in wrongdoing as leverage to force Grey back into the fold.

Though Harris likes Bennett Grey and dislikes Carstairs intensely, he goes along with the latter's plans, with reservations. Bennett takes Harris with him to a colorful week-end gathering at Hurleigh House where he meets, and attracts the interest of, Richard Bunsen. Harris also falls hard for Sarah Grey and the attraction is mutual. His investigation proceeds in parallel with Carstairs' Macchiavellian plots and with a long laid plan that is already in play to make a personal 'statement that would stick in the minds of the powerful'. It certainly sticks in the reader's mind! As always Laurie R. King gives us an exceptional story, and I hope for more of Bennett Grey, Harris Stuyvesant, and their nemesis Aldous Carstairs.

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