When I started reading Laurie R King's Mary Russell / Sherlock Holmes series a couple of years ago, after a very long break from her work, I didn't know about this novel. First published in 2007, it's been a standalone work until recently, when a second novel featuring the same main protagonists, “The Bones of Paris”, was published. I like King's writing. Her prose is excellent, she does a good job creating interesting (if not always believable) characters, her evocation of time and place is powerful and she weaves historical events and personalities into her stories in an interesting and unforced manner.
“Touchstone” is something of a departure from King's Mary Russell / Sherlock Holmes series and her earlier Kate Martinelli series. Rather than crime fiction, it's in the thriller genre. The novel is set in England in 1926, in the lead up to a national strike in support of coal miners. Harris Stuyvesant, an agent with the Bureau of Investigation (precursor to the FBI) is in London following a lead in his investigation into a series of politically motivated bombings in the US. He crosses paths with the sinister eminence grise Aldous Carstairs and shell shocked veteran Bennett Grey, a man whose war injuries have given him a particular sensitivity to deception. (Grey is one of those interesting but not very believable characters King is particularly good at creating).
The narrative is in the third person omniscient style, giving an old-fashioned feel to the work which I quite like, although the rapidity with which the perspective switches from one character to another was sometimes a little annoying. Another feature of the work is its sedate pace. I don't read many thrillers and I don't need my fiction to be action packed, but even taking my patience with a slow narrative into account, there were times when this one went too slowly for me. There are too many cigarettes smoked, too many cups of coffee drunk and too many drinking sessions and hangovers described in minute detail. This does not make for a particularly thrilling thriller.
I worked out - well, correctly guessed - the identity of the perpetrator early on. However, I doubted myself because my guess didn't seem particularly credible. And indeed, the climax of the action was anything but credible. However, that happens in crime fiction - and in thrillers too, I suppose - so there's no point in reading such novels at all if you can't cross the suspension bridge of disbelief and enjoy the view from the other side. Notwithstanding my reservations, I enjoyed the view enough to give this 3 to 3.5 stars. I also liked it enough to move straight on to its newly published sequel. What can I say, it was there, ready to go. And it's set in 1920s Paris, one of my favourite literary locations.
I listened to the audiobook version which is competently narrated by American actor Jefferson Mays. He's not bad at the English voices - although he mostly sounds like an American putting on an English accent and a Welsh accent proved beyond his ability - and he doesn't come over all falsetto with the female characters. All in all, Mays made listening pleasant.