21 March 2009

Review: TOUCHSTONE, Laurie R. King

Bantam 2008, ISBN 978-0-553-58666-6, 548 pages

Bennett Grey survived being blown up at the end of World War I. In fact he believes he was blown to pieces and somehow miraculously re-assembled. With the experience came the new ability to see into people, to "feel" accurately whether they are telling the truth. When his ability is noticed he becomes a "touchstone" for British intelligence, useful in prisoner interrogation, and in the development of lie detection technology. Upset by the brutality of the interrogations he participates in, he withdraws from the project and becomes a recluse, abandoning the woman he was to marry, and going to live in Cornwall.

He emerges to help Harris Stuyvesant, an American agent attached the Bureau of Investigation, who is looking for an archist, a bomber, thought to be British, already responsible for a number of deaths in the USA.
Their quest leads them to a houseparty held near Oxford, to the home of the woman whom Grey still loves, so that the American can get close to the man whom he believes is the bomber.

The main story is set against the impending General Strike of 1926, a time when many are hoping for the collapse of the British government, and some sort of Revolution. For many of the characters the agenda is one of high political ideals, of a possible role for themselves in a new order. For Harris Stuyvesant though the agenda is personal. It is also a story of manipulation, but it wasn't until the last 20 or so pages that I thought I knew what was going to happen, and the identity of the bomber.

TOUCHSTONE came to my attention originally because it was short-listed for Left Coast Crime's THE BRUCE ALEXANDER MEMORIAL HISTORICAL MYSTERY. While I was at LCC I hade the opportunity to attend a couple of panels that Laurie King was on, and also to get Laurie to sign a copy of the book for me.

I originally thought, about TOUCHSTONE, "another American writer rather cheekily setting her novel in England", but I have been pleasantly surprised. Like Elizabeth George's, Laurie R. King's writing has an authentic English feel to it. The story reflects an incredible depth of research, and only the occasional American spelling points to the nationality of the author (and the location of the publisher).

My rating: 4.7

Laurie R. King's website: http://www.laurierking.com/

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