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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Grave Talent. Laurie R. King. Bantam Books (1993)

This is an enjoyable thriller with a few, significant, structural problems. A child is found dead on Taylor's Road, a small community outside of San Francisco. Two more children are abducted, murdered and their bodies found on Taylor's Road. Newly promoted detective Kate Martinelli is paired with experienced detective Alonzo Hawkin to the case. It becomes apparent that the killer is likely to be one of the people who live on Taylor's Road and when it emerges that one of them served a sentence for a child murder she becomes the focus of the investigation. The story moves rapidly, the reveals are mostly well staged, the investigation develops in an interesting way and the conclusion is crisp and sour.
The chief suspect, Vaun Adams, is a painter of genius who has a previous conviction for murdering a child in her care. The problem is that Laurie R. King goes to extensive lengths to convince the reader of Vaun Adam's genius. She is not content to have it as an established fact in the story, she puts considerable, misguided, efforts to prove it. These efforts add nothing to the depth of the character nor are they intrinsic to the plot. They are a boring distraction that ultimately undermine somewhat the character they are supposed to be supporting.
Kate Martinelli suffers from a very poorly set up reveal and some indigestible slabs of exposition, they sit in the story like stones in a cake. This is really unfortunate as Laurie R. King has the talent and craft to develop and reveal personalities in action. Alonso Hawkin is a great cast member, he is introduced with great economy and develops naturally throughout the story. He is revealed by his actions and reactions. Kate Martinelli is the same, the excess baggage given to her is a very considerable drag on the story, as she is a central character the loss of momentum has a significant impact on the story. The problems do not overwhelm the story, on balance it is an enjoyable read.

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