Back in January, I discovered King’s interesting take on the Sherlock Holmes franchaise and reviewed it here. But Himself, who was also very impressed with King’s writing, went looking for her other crime series and thrust this offering into my hands, promising that I’d love it.
Kate Martinelli, a newly promoted female Homicide detective with a secret to conceal, and Alonzo Hawkin, a world-weary cop trying to make a new life for himself in San Francisco are thrown together to solve a particularly ugly crime. Three young girls are strangled. All children are similar in appearance and all are found near a rural colony, home to a variety of dropouts and eccentric characters. Amongst them is one woman, the enigmatic artist Vaun, who is hiding the terrible truth about her past and her real identity. As they get nearer the solution, Martinelli and Hawkin realise there is a coldly calculating mind at work which they must outmanoeuvre if they are to prevent further killing.
That’s the blurb, more or less. This book was initially published in 1991, and won the 1993 Edgar Award for the best first crime novel of the year. Which should give you an indication that it’s a good ‘un – which it certainly is.
King’s cool, understated prose, pin-sharp characterisation and steadily rising tension put me in mind of P.D. James and Ruth Rendall – and I don’t generally sling those kinds of comparisons around. I have to say that when I initially realised that the crimes they were investigating were the serial deaths of small girls, my heart sank. I read largely for pleasurable escapism, so with young children in the family, I generally don’t want to read about murders in this age group. I gritted my teeth, waiting for the heart-wrenching details from the post mortem… the anguish of the parents… the detectives to go into emotional meltdown over the whole business, taking us with them… And was relieved that there was none of that sloshing around in this novel. While at no time treating the deaths as anything other than wicked, terrible waste of young lives, King has refrained from putting us through the wringer, focusing instead on first the main suspect and then the perpetrator.
If that sounds like the book is lacking in tension – it isn’t. King has an inbuilt instinct for providing sufficient conflict necessary to pull us into her world, while refraining from going OTT. If only the screenwriters of popular TV crime programmes would follow her example, I would have enjoyed the first episode of the latest NCIS series…
But in this book, King isn’t just giving us a gripping murder hunt with a pair of believably complex detectives – she is laying the groundwork for a crime detective series, featuring her main protagonist, Kate Martinelli. So do we care sufficiently for this female detective to want to hunt down other books featuring her? Oh absolutely – in fact the sequel is waiting on the pile beside my bed. And I have a feeling that it may mysteriously jump the queue and be read ahead of the strict order I usually implement.
But don’t take my word for it – give yourself a treat and curl up in front of the fire with A Grave Talent, before the Spring garden yanks you outside.