Lisa H.'s Reviews > Touchstone

Touchstone by Laurie R. King
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Sep 16, 11

bookshelves: mystery, historical-alt-history
Read from September 06 to 16, 2011

** spoiler alert ** It took me a little while to warm up to the main character, Harris Stuyvesant, a US federal agent on the trail of Richard Bunsen, an up-and-coming figure in the English labor movement, whom he believes to be responsible for a series of bombings in the US, one of which left Stuyvesant's beloved younger brother permanently brain-damaged, and another killed the woman he loved.

Contrary to the wishes of his director, none other than J. Edgar Hoover, he follows his suspect to England, where in the spring of 1926 an imminent mass work stoppage has the powers-that-be in an uproar. There Stuyvesant manages to insert himself into the lives of a family of eccentric bluebloods, one of whom is both romantically and politically involved with Bunsen.

Along the way he meets Aldous Carstairs, a shadowy, Macchiavelian power broker, and Bennett Grey, a former soldier whose war injuries have left him hypersensitive to falseness of any kind, making him an alluring possible tool for Carstairs, who wants to use Grey as a kind of human lie detector when grilling suspects. Allying himself with Carstairs to get closer to his target, Stuyvesant finds himself unable to willingly put Grey back in the hands of the man who once drove Grey nearly mad, and at the same time falls in love with Grey's sister.

My main quarrel with King's book is that Stuyvesant is too much tailor-made for the tasks at hand - every time an obstacle presents itself, it turns out he has some background or experience that allows him to handle the problem with ease. For example, when he needs to get closer to Bunsen, he reveals both a past encounter (while undercover in the guise of a union member) with radical legend Emma Goldman, which lends him legitimacy in Bunsen's world, and experience acting as bodyguard for a well-known union organizer, which sets him up to be asked to fill in for Bunsen's driver just when Bunsen may be planning on planting another bomb at a secret meeting of union and management representatives. His cover identity, that of a former auto mechanic who has risen with the Ford company to the rank of salesman, gives him further credibility with both the blue collar and white collar types at the meeting, so no one blinks at his inclusion in this super-secret and potentially headline-making meeting. He also shows a nearly superhuman ability to judge a situation and arrive at the proper action at the exact moment it is needed. Just all a little too convenient for my taste. To be honest, I would have preferred if King had left his character a little less sympathetic, as I found him at the beginning of the book.

I had anticipated the climax of the book to some degree, but I got the person wrong, which was a nice surprise. I was really torn as to the rating I wanted to give the book, but ended up with 4 stars because it introduced me to a period of history - England between the wars - that I was previously unfamiliar with, and which was intriguing.
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