LAURIE R. KING – To Play the Fool. Kate Martinelli & Al Hawkin #2. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1995. Bantam Crimeline, paperback, 1996.

   King won a First Novel Edgar for A Grave Talent, which I thought was very good. She followed that with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, [the first of her Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes mysteries], and now Martinelli and Hawkin are back.

   [Back] finally, after the traumatic events of the first book were followed offstage by another case almost as bad. Now they are investigating the murder of a homeless person, and smack in the middle of the case is a charismatic and enigmatic man known only as “Brother Erasmus.” He is something of a Holy Fool who speaks only in quotations, ad he is at once their strongest hope and biggest barrier to solving the case. Before all the puzzles are solved, someone else has died.

   I like King’s writing very much. She is adept at characterization and dialogue, and it has a real sense of San Francisco that she imparts without overdoing it. At the center of this book as with her first is a superbly drawn character — here it’s the fool, Erasmus. The plot, and Matrinelli, revolve around him. Hawkin is there but less present in this one. Martinelli is a sympathetic human being, and her relationship with her lesbian lover is very well handled.

   While I enjoyed the book a great deal as I read it, I think it has two problems, one of them major. The first is the large amount of material about the Fool’s involvement is worked into the book — and understanding of it is central to the plot, but if the reader doesn’t find it interesting, it will be a real stumbling block. It wasn’t for me, but I think it might be for many.

   The second, however, is an eventual solution to the crime that I found unlikely to the point of being unbelievable, which went a long way toward negating my earlier enjoyment. Granted, the mystery of the crime was less important to what King was attempting than was the mystery of Erasmus, but it was still a downer.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #17, January 1995.

        The Kate Martinelli mysteries —

A Grave Talent (1993)
To Play the Fool (1995)
With Child (1996)
Night Work (2000)
The Art of Detection (2006)