Laurie R. King Virtual Book Club discussion

Touchstone (Harris Stuyvesant, #1)
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Archived VBC Selections > Touchstone by Laurie R. King - VBC September 2013

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Vicki (vickivanv) | 282 comments Mod
Anticipating the release of LRK's The Bones of Paris: A Novel of Suspense and our upcoming discussion of it, we now focus on its predecessor, Touchstone, the first Harris Stuyvesant novel, which is set during England's 1926 general strike. It provides a darker window onto 1920s Britain than does the Mary Russell series, focusing on the violence that bubbled up from the sociopolitical turmoil following WWI. Anyone having new thoughts or impressions of the book upon revisiting it several years after its publication?

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Richard | 10 comments I am reading it for the first time. Quite different from the Russell series.

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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Vicki and all,
I recently re-read "Touchstone," to get my mind refreshed for "City of Bones," and found that I liked it better on a second reading than on my first (this happens to me sometimes with Laurie's "denser" books; I wasn't crazy about "The Moor" at first, but now it's one of my favorites). Anyway, I think the book does a great job of capturing the dark side of that time - the contrast with post-war "joie de vivre" and the economic disruption of the early union moment, fears of Bolsheviks, and of course, the lasting effect of the War on men like Bennett Grey and Stuyvesant. And I have to say, Harris' experiences at the Great Country house did give me some echoes of "Justice Hall," especially the "fish out of water" feeling he shares with Russell.

Lenore | 1079 comments I'm still re-listening, but I, too, was struck by echoes of Justice Hall. I found it interesting how lovingly and well LRK describes "great houses" and their gardens.

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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Very true, Lenore - and there's one in "Bones of Paris," too. I always think that Place is such an important part of Laurie's books - it really informs the story and in so many of her books, you can smell and see your surroundings as you read.
I really sensed Harris' dislocation in big, strange London in "Touchstone," and the contrast with how Bennett is healed by the peace and quiet of the country.

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MaryL (maryl1) | 234 comments And OH! LRK's grand use of spare, but evocative description brings the place to life-I agree on re-read this one is growing on me.

I'm finding the contrast between Americans and English-which is so often a cliche-is very well portrayed.

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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Yes, Harris comes across as being very aggressively American, almost a Poster boy for the "big touch Private Eye" hero. I liked the counterpoint provided by his partnership of sorts with Bennett, who of course is very different on the surface - but they have more in common than we think at first.

LindaH | 121 comments Does Harris Stuyvesant ever sleep? I am 3/4 of the way, and I am loving this book. King has pulled me into the complicated psyches of three men. Now to see it play out.

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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
I think he does catch a few once he gets to the country house, but he doesn't have much time to waste! Yes, the psyche of the "spy master" is interesting, isn't it? What a cold fish!

LindaH | 121 comments Carstairs is a great character, especially when I look back at the role he plays in the reader's experience.

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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Would you elucidate on that, Linda? I'd like to hear your thoughts on that.
One thing that struck me in this book was how much we learn about the characters through their own ruminations in times of repose - looking into a mirror, or out the window...I thought looking elsewhere and looking inward was quite a theme in the book.

LindaH | 121 comments Carstairs is suspect, with his journal, his vision for the country, his belief that the ends justify the means. For me, my suspicions color my reading experience. I like to think I am logically taking in the clues, but a good mystery writer can change that. I think of Carstairs as red-herringesque. Does that answer your question, Merrily?

Good point about the reflective moments being connected to characters looking in mirrors and through windows. How about adding Carstairs' field glasses?

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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Yes, thanks, Linda - I'd add that to me, Carstairs is a version of the corrupt intelligence man in "God of the Hive," that is, someone who has confused his own desire for power with "the good of the country," and so goes on to do terrible things. And we must definitely add Carstairs' field glasses!

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Anne Pichette | 4 comments I just finished reading the book and really enjoyed it.
It is definitely different from the Mary Russell books.
I agree with Linda that Carstairs was an interesting figure. I could not figure what he had going other than he thought his was the ultimate plan that would save England. I like the friendship between Bennett and Harris even though they were different types off people. I am looking forward to reading the Bones of Paris.

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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Anne, I think you'll enjoy "Bones" even more having read "Touchstone" first. Although it's my understanding that "Bones" isn't intended as a classic sequel, it's definitely even more enjoyable when you have meet Harris and Bennett previously.
I think men like Carstairs are drawn to Intelligence work, because it's a great way of seeking control over people and things - presumably "sea green incorruptible" men like Mycroft avoid the temptation, but many don't. I think even Karin Bey in OJER is one of these types, except that he's gone way over the edge into actual torture.

LindaH | 121 comments So, Carstairs is working independently, with all his crazy visions, plus all the Yard's resources...just the usual Intelligence arrangement? Will we see him again?

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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Linda, yes, I think Carstairs is one of those "Black Ops" people that the more stable Intelligence types don't want to know about. Which doesn't mean that his actions aren't sanctioned in a sense, until he gets caught.
He does show up again in "City of Bones" but he's not in the story much -

LindaH | 121 comments Thanks, Merrily. It's interesting to note that Stuyvesant proves a match for Carstairs

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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Definitely, Linda - of course in "Touchstone" Carstairs makes the mistake of thinking that Harris is an American yokel, and that's just a part that Styuvesant is playing...

Carol (countesscarola) | 25 comments Finishing up my reread of Touchstone today--certainly enjoyed it more the second time around-I guess just more appreciative of the characters and the political situation. Bennett remains my favorite-I always love that which is damaged. Looking forward to reading Bones-lucky to have snagged a copy yesterday at the library--very lucky! I will buy a copy a little later--as I am collectin all of Laurie"s books.

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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Carol, yes, I enjoyed "Touchstone" more on the second reading, as well. I think you will really like "City of Bones," which I thought was faster moving than "Touchstone" - and she certainly does bring out the macabre aspects of Paris at that time. One thing that's interesting is Bennett's progression since the first book, but I won't say any more about that - "Spoilers!"

Carole (thegoodwitchofmarytavy) | 86 comments Re-reading Touchstone was actually like reading it for the first time; the only thing I remembered was something about a girl (probably Sarah)and the Barn!

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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Elizabeth, maybe that was because it's a pretty dense and complicated plot. There were times on the first read when I had trouble keeping track of what was going on, in part because I got bogged down in some of the parts that concentrated on the labor activity of the time. I found the second reading much clearer!

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Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Elizabeth wrote: "Re-reading Touchstone was actually like reading it for the first time; the only thing I remembered was something about a girl (probably Sarah)and the Barn!"

I know what you mean! I was reading the ARC of BONES and kept getting little "oh, right" moments for all these details from Touchstone that I've forgotten about.

Clearly we were all due for a reread!

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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Erin, I knew I'd have to re-read "Touchstone" before I got to "Bones," because I'd forgotten so much of it. I'm really glad I did re-read it when I did.

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MaryL (maryl1) | 234 comments Spoiler Alert!

I'm having trouble with Laura Hurleigh, even this go round. I'm not sure I understand what motivates one to embrace Anarchy. It might be a 21st century attitude, but I have little faith in the basic goodness of mankind individually and none at all in the mob. Look what happened during Katrina. So I don't get the self-sacrifice-not of the folks who set themselves on fire, not the hunger-strikers, nor Laura. Seems a complete waste of a fine mind. Can anyone enlighten me?

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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Mary, I'm not sure she was so much of an anarchist as someone who thought she was rejecting privilege (and her family's privilege as well) and making a statement about how wrong it was for some to have everything and others, nothing. Having said that, it's certainly been established that "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need," is pretty much against human nature, and in any case blowing oneself up along with other people just isn't a good strategy!

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MaryL (maryl1) | 234 comments Well, I don't feel any sympathy for her. She seems to have spent her life being resentful at being Not A Boy and therefore Not the Heir, then when she finally gets into a position of influence, steps back and reverts to an earlier Feminine Ideal when her Man is around, so as not to seem to overshadow him. She even lets him hit her. And her Grand Gesture? Well, who's left picking up the pieces? (sorry for the caps, but it feels like she thinks that way). I think Bennett Grey has far more courage, just going on waking up every day.

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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
I agree with you there, Mary, I think Laura managed to delude herself about a lot of things including her own independence and self-reliance. But then I'm not sure Laurie intended for us to sympathize with her, either.

Carol (countesscarola) | 25 comments My feeling about Laura was that she was so concerned for the need for change and her inability to facilitate change that she did the only thing she felt would shake up those around her. The fear of random violence was the only thing that seemed to bring attention to the here and now.

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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Carol, good point - and it occurs to me that she may also have been suicidal since her relationship wasn't going well, and she was so frustrated - so that gesture would have been meaningful for her in both ways.

Lenore | 1079 comments Not disagreeing with anything said by Mary, Merrily, and Carol, but you need only to pick up the newspaper to see that there are still a large number of folks loose in the world who are possessed with the truly insane idea that blowing up oneself with a bunch of bystanders is the way to bring about the societal change that they desire.

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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Unfortunately, too true, Lenore!

Laurin (laurinravenscourt) | 1 comments Was fortunate to meet Laurie King last evening at a book signing for The Bones of Paris and found out that some of the characters were in Touchstone. I have just ordered it and look forward to reading it too. Ms. King is a wonderful speaker and so generous with her thoughts and explanation of how she writes! What a truly gifted and talented writer!!!

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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Laurin, she's a wonderful lady, so thoughtful and down to earth - and nice to her fans. Glad that you got a chance to meet her, Laurin. You will enjoy "Touchstone" - it does share a couple major characters with "City of Bones," but you don't need to have read "Touchstone" to enjoy the latest book. It really stands on its own.

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MaryL (maryl1) | 234 comments I'm finding the switching of POVs fascinating. It is HARD to do that-and this book has -what-5? different ones. I do think the male voices are stronger, but that might be because I truly don't like/understand Laura. Of course, as was said, we probably weren't supposed to...

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Antoinette | 186 comments Finally received my copy of Touchstone in today's mail. I have to catch up.

Louise Chambers (louisec303) | 25 comments I just started Touchstone last night on iPad (Kindle ebook). This will be the second time reading it. I finished Bones of Paris (Kindle ebook) on the iPad and enjoyed it very much. Working out the kinks of reading Kindle ebooks on different devices - iPhone, iPad, and Mac Air. I like the portability, and reading in bed is much easier. But that presents the problem of staying up waaaaay too late. LOL

I'm eager to read Touchstone again because I'm foggy on it, and BofP left me with some questions, such as how did Bennett and Harris meet?

I'm wondering if anyone in VLRK knows someone like Bennett (severe PTSD leading to psychic wounds)? How did LRK come to create or know this character IRL (in real life)? I have PTSD and I feel alot like Bennett, and know some others who do too. I also know some with mental illness that react the way Bennett does. Most of us do intense spiritual work, such as Shamanism, to cope.

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