My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The initial premise is tried and true: a veteran detective, Al Hawkins, is assigned a new partner, Kate Martinelli. She’s no rookie, but she’s climbed quickly up the ranks, and now that Al’s been assigned the investigation of a little girl’s murder, the higher ups want a woman on the case. And that’s where A Grave Talent departs from the tried and true. Not that it falls short; on the contrary, this is an exciting, riveting police procedural. What is so surprising about AGT is that it was actually the very first novel written by Laurie R. King, better known today for her outstanding Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series.
AGT is an intricately plotted novel. One child murder multiplies into three, and Martinelli and Hawkins zero in on a neighborhood of societal dropouts living high in the hills above San Francisco. As the investigation progresses, the reader watches a relationship grow between the new partners, neither of whom are what surface appearances might suggest. Al Hawkins in particularly well drawn, a far cry from what might be expected from a hardened cop who’s seen it all. Sharp and observant, he’s quick to read Kate, long before she can read him. As the detectives interview the neighborhood residents, they believe they’ve found their perpetrator. But something doesn’t feel quite right, and both Al and Kate have learned to listen to their instincts.
Unlike typical serial killer novels, in which the focus is on the murderer, AGT focuses upon the initial suspect, developing that character in psychological depth. The killer, while diabolical, plays second fiddle. In the second half of the story, the tension mounts, and each of the main players must come to terms with who he or she truly is. But to say this thriller is character driven is to sell it short. Plot, prose style, dialogue – the pieces that lift a book above the ordinary are decidedly there. Since 1993, when her first novel was published, Laurie King has gotten better and better. Pick up any of her titles – you won’t be disappointed.