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Folly    by Laurie R. King order for
by Laurie R. King
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Laurie R. King is one of my five favorite mystery authors, both for her Mary Russell (Sherlock Holmes) and her Kate Martinelli series. With A Darker Place she entered the territory of writers of psychological thrillers, such as Minette Walters. Folly establishes a firm foothold there. Though the novels have no characters in common, they share the theme of a middle aged woman, who is severely damaged, vulnerable, and fighting her own demons. This time they are those of a lifelong and occasionally suicidal, depression.

King builds her edifice of words out of two parallel stories. The recent tale emerges from the foundations of the older one, just as the author's heroine Rae Newborn builds her new house on top of the foundations laid by her long-dead relative, Desmond. Desmond Newborn, from whom Rae inherited Folly Island in the Straits of Juan de Fuca, was damaged by World War I ... 'They tell me today that the Great War is over ... Was I laughing? Was I weeping? I do not know. But I do know that the war will never be over. Never.' Young Rae accidentally discovered Desmond's existence and that knowledge became her lifeline through an unhappy childhood and adult tragedy.

Rae has struggled with a genetic legacy (nailed down by her upbringing) of monopolar depression, and has attempted suicide on three occasions. The last came after the death of her husband and small daughter in a car accident, and her own rape while she was still coping with grief. Rae, a renowned Master woodworker, has lost even her artistic self. As the story opens, her surviving daughter Tamara and beloved grand-daughter Petra deposit Rae, along with camping and construction gear, on Folly Island. Her hand reaches out to wave goodbye ... 'in the air, her wave changed, the hand reaching forward, stretched out in protest and cry for help, as if her outstretched fingers could pull them back to her'.

Rae has chosen to rebuild Desmond's Folly in an attempt to rebuild herself, but she is by no means sure that she will make it. Her first weeks are difficult, plagued by insomnia and fear of Watchers, but gradually the project takes over and Rae regains her life as her two-towered construction rises. And just as steadily, the reader becomes aware that the menace surrounding this admirable woman is not all in her imagination. She finds a body, and danger draws closer to her island refuge as new and old friends also intrude upon Rae's life again. As Desmond wrote 'Here, all men are islands, linked by the touch of the sea. That which divides us is what brings us together.'

It is a measure of this author's skill that her ending seems inevitable even as it surprises us. King has given the reader yet another compelling story centered around an illness that is all too common, but not commonly written about. While my initial reaction to this wild woman with scarred wrists was one of slight distaste, my anxiety for her survival and happiness grew through the tale. Despite all the odds against her, the reader hopes that her island Folly will turn into a Sanctuary.

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