My lovely friend, Deslily, has been after me to read Touchstone by Laurie R. King for yonks. Partly because we both love the author's writing but also some of the story is set in the far west of Cornwall where I come from. Anyway, I recently spotted a brand new copy of the book in our local library, had one of those 'oh' moments, and nabbed it.
Harris Stuyvesant works for the American Bureau of Investigation, but his reason for being in England is not official. He's on the tail of whoever it was who set off a bomb that left his younger brother a mental and physical invalid. Stuyvesant thinks it is one, Richard Bunsen, a charismatic anarchist, who has gathered quite a following, including the eldest daughter of the Duke of Hurleigh, Laura. So he has friends in high places.
In the course of his investigation the agent is sent to see Aldous Carstairs, a British agent of some kind, and finds him to be a deeply unpleasant, frightening man. Carstairs sends him off to the far west of Cornwall to meet a man called Bennett Grey. Grey was badly injured during the Great War and now suffers from a kind of telepathy which means he can't bear to be around people. It's clear Carstairs has a hidden agenda where Grey is concerned and it is also clear that Grey is completely terrified of Carstairs. He does however come to trust Stuyvesant and tells him that his sister, Sarah, is tied up with Bunsen and Laura Hurleigh, and that much of what they do revolves around a sort women's movement whose aim is to try and improve the lot of impovershed women and their families.
Stuyvesant and Grey head off for a weekend at the Hurleigh country house in Oxfordshire to try to solve the riddle... the problem being that it's possible that there are multiple riddles - not just one.
It's a dangerous time to be in England. Striking miners are giving the capital an uneasy and explosive atmosphere. The General Strike is looming and all of this, plus Stuyvesant's growing feelings for Grey's sister, make the agent's mission even more complicated than he had first thought. And to add to this he has the constant feeling that he's being used and manipulated by Carstairs. But why?
It's taken me the best part of two weeks to read this, due mostly to the fact that I've been busy but also - this no quick read! The plot twists and turns and King does what she does with her Mary Russell books and that is to excel at background information. Thus, I learned quite a lot about events of 1926, the lead-up to The General Strike, conditions for the poor and so on. And not just that, attitudes of the rich towards the poor, political shenanigans, the history of anarchists... really this is quite a complicated book. But King is an excellent writer and none of the information ever felt dry, it was all connected with the plot and 'relevant'.
I'm not surprised Deslily wanted me to read it. (Funnily enough, my eldest daughter spotted it on a recent visit and also said how excellent it was.) I'd recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good 'thriller' or 'mystery' type read. But also to those who like an historical background to their books, who enjoy learning something from what they read. Like I said, it's not a quick, easy read - it's 500 pages of densely written story - but it's compulsive reading, especially as it heads towards its climax and suddenly, where you thought you knew who was going to do the deed, you realise you've been led up the garden path and that's not necessarily the case: anything can happen.
Excellent. A superb read. I've heard that Laurie King has, or is going to, write another book about Harris Stuyvesant and certainly hope this is the case; I would love her to turn it into a series. And many thanks to Deslily for making me read Touchstone!
My 11th. book for J.Kaye's Support your local library challenge. Nearly halfway there!