22 February 2009

Radicals in high places

There are times when I seem to have no impulse control. It often happens in bookstores. I was only passing time. Waiting for someone else to do something. The specifics are lost in a maze of trivia. But the book I bought while I intended to be "just waiting" is very much on my mind. Of course, I only finished reading it half an hour ago.

When I saw Laurie R. King's Touchstone on the shelf in paperback I was lost. Since I read Beekeeper's Apprentice back in 2001, I've been a sucker for her books. It doesn't seem to matter whether she's writing about Sherlock Holmes' replacement for dear old Dr. Watson, or the San Francisco detective, or the cult busting undercover agent, or an innocents' underground railroad, I've liked her books.

I was just grateful that the book had made it to paperback before I found it. I'm sure that saved me more than a dozen dollars. (Even so, a dozen dollars for the paperback makes me appreciate the 50¢ paperbacks of my youth.)

Touchstone is a thriller set in mid-1920s England. An undercover FBI agent is paired with a British WWI veteran with PSTD. The veteran's sister is paired with Lady Hurleigh as progressive social activists. The veteran is also Lady Hurleigh's former suitor. The suit was ended by terrible, mostly psychological wounds the soldier suffered on a French battlefield. Lady Hurleigh is also paired with her current lover, a radical politician striving for legitimacy and political power. Lurking behind it all is a shadowy, semi-official intelligence agent who is planning to make Britain safe from reds and unrest, whether Britain wants that safety or not.

King tells the story quite slowly at first. It is a 550-page book. I slogged through the first half of the book. It could have used some energy and action. But the last third of the book makes up for the slowly-building tension. I had difficulty putting the book down while I read the last 100 pages.

I'd advise you to skim through the first half, but you'd might miss key elements that come into play later. You could probably live without them, but the ending does tie up all the loose ends -- well almost all. There could be a sequel, but it might be a romance novel.

Can you tell I liked this one? King has once again written a book I really like. She offers a believable picture of upper class English life and a plausible image of anti-Communist politics in J. Edgar's FBI and the infant MI5 of the 1920s.

I recommend it. Maybe this is the first recommendation for summer reading.

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