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The Art of Detection    by Laurie R. King order for
Art of Detection
by Laurie R. King
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

A new Kate Martinelli thriller is a rare treat for mystery lovers, and this one introduces the Sherlock Holmes theme (central to the author's wonderful series starring an aging Holmes and his brilliant young wife Mary Russell) to modern San Francisco. The interconnection of the two series is elegantly completed by the fact that a gay couple star in the unpublished story - purportedly told by Holmes himself - that is the catalyst for modern murder.

Kate, glimpsed in happy domesticity with her psychotherapist partner Lee and their delightful daughter Nora, takes on the case of the killing of Philip Gilbert, an eccentric so obsessed with Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes that he's had the ground floor of his San Francisco Victorian home made into an exact copy of the great detective's Baker Street residence, down to details like an icebox, gaslights, coal in the fireplace, and pipes by a wickerwork chair - Kate is reminded of Masterpiece Theatre, and there's even a webcam recording events like the regular meetings of Gilbert's Sherlockian dinner club. The victim's pyjama-clad body was found at Marin park in Battery DuMaurier, site of a nineteenth century gun emplacement guarding San Francisco Bay. Kate and her partner Al Hawkin wonder what prompted the killer to manhandle the corpse to this unusual location.

There's a great deal to delight Holmes fans en route to solving the mystery, from Lee's summation of the detective as 'A self-medicating bipolar with obsessive-compulsive tendencies' to the story within the main story here. His discovery of the old manuscript set Gilbert cock-a-hoop, and it was expected to unleash an ugly controversy amongst Conan Doyle fan-atics. The short story is also set in San Francisco, told by Sherlock Holmes, and centers on the 1924 discovery of the corpse of a young military officer at Battery DuMaurier (we get to read its 'hundred-odd pages' here in full, along with Kate.) It opens, 'The mind is a machine ill suited to desuetude.' Holmes seeks mental occupation through forays into the seedier sections of the city and is eventually hired by a transvestite singer to investigate the disappearance of his/her military lover.

Of course, Holmes tidily solves the 1920s murder as Kate does the modern one, the striking parallels between them only beginning with the location of the bodies. Both take personal risks, and in the aftermath Kate's friends rally. Lee tells her that 'Days like this are why God invented wine', and Roz and Maj surprise her with a very special celebration. The Art of Detection is Laurie King's best to date, not to be missed by fans of either of her highly engaging series.

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