Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie, by Jaclyn Moriarty

Somehow, when I went on vacation, I took only solemn and serious books with me. Unsurprisingly, I had no interest in them once I hit the lovely warmth and sunny skies of Palm Springs. Accordingly, I picked this up as a YA that Tonks might enjoy and that I could read as well.

Written in first person , primarily as a mix of letters, notes, and diary entries, Bindy Mackenzie is in Year 11 of her high school near Sydney, Australia. An unusually bright girl, Bindy has a long record of achievement, and now feels she must continue to perform at the highest of academic levels, placing first in every class, contest and competition. She has wound herself up really tightly and one fears for her ability to stay healthy.

This year, a new course has been introduced: Friendship and Discipline, immediately known as "FAD." Bindy is one of 8 students, none of whom are her usual crowd. This group also has a new teacher, Try Montaine, and a new student, Finnegan Blonde. Following her usual pattern, Bindy objects to this course as interfering with her studies, alienates her classmates, and evidences every symptom of being headed for a major mental breakdown.

Accordingly, I found myself reading this book actually leaning toward the pages, as if to physically see what was going on behind the text. Bindy is simply not a trustworthy narrator--I couldn't accept what she said was happening at face value, but I wasn't sure I could see what was going on. There were clearly major cracks in her parent's relationship, Bindi herself seemed a disaster about to happen, but I couldn't really suss out what this book was doing.

Obviously, it could be a "Breakfast Club" story, where the seemingly mismatched group of misfits bonds over their common humanity, and the Brain lightens up, the Party Girl stops drinking, etc. etc. And for a bit, it looked like that was beginning to happen -- sort of, and I started puzzling out what each kid needed and which other kid was the match. But Bindy continued resolutely to be Bindy--the socially inept whiz kid with a prickly and largely unlikeable exterior.

Okay, maybe it was "Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime." Unreliable narrator who has no idea that s/he is unreliable. Bindy doesn't have Asperger's Syndrome, but perhaps she is obsessive-compulsive, or simply too self-absorbed to see what is happening. However true that is, there was no obvious story going on that I could pick up, the way there is in "Curious Incident."

Maybe it was "Dead Poet's Society?" Not that I've seen that movie, but isn't that about the role of a special teacher in the students' life? Try could have been that teacher, and Bindy the student who learns to see the whole of life through her teaching.

Then, one weekend, Try invites her FAD group to spend the weekend up at a place she has in the mountains. And I had serious deja vu, since I had read this before, when it was ostensibly an adult novel called "Special Topics in Calamity Physics," by Marisha Pessl. Test this theory with me:

Academically over-performing girl? Check.
With an inflated opinion of her father? Check.
Living an uprooted life, moving nearly every year? Check.
Book smart, but ignorant of real life? Check.
Placed in a small group of unusual students? Check.
Lead by a charismatic teacher? Check.
Who brings the students to her house? Check.
Suspicious circumstances that the group has to solve? Check.
Teacher not who she appears to be? Check.

Still, this is a better balanced book than "Special Topics." The thing that is going on under the surface actually shows up in clues scattered across the book. The year before, Bindy overheard two substitute teachers talking about a Polish exchange student, and one teacher slapped the other. Bindy jumped up and offered her card, saying "I would be honored to be your witness" in what she assumed would be an upcoming assault suit.

Turns out that the conversation was about a new computer program being installed at the school, and the "Polish student" was actually the password. The problem is that the program was a scam, designed so that the installers could get back in at any time, implant fake teacher info and bilk the system through fake salaries, etc. If Bindy knew what was going on, she would have to be removed. So Try and some other people, were feeding Bindy small, regular doses of arsenic to disorient her. Try was supposed to find out if Bindy had figured out what that overheard conversation was about. Finnegan's cousin was one of the two women in that conversation, and he thought the car accident that killed her was no accident. He came to find out what had happened to her, and to protect anybody who might become endangered.

In the end, Try locks Bindy in an booby-trapped office, nearly killing her with arsine gas. Her FAD friends have figured out about half of the "real" story, and help her escape the fatal poisoning. So there is an element of "Breakfast Club" after all.

This is a fairly ambitious trick to pull of in a YA novel, but it seems to have worked. The scenes of normal high sschool life were believable, and Bindy's situation is sad, and she can't even see it.

In teh end, Bindy survives the murder attempt, although she was in a coma for several weeks. She is able to connect emotionally with her family, and now has different friends and a different approach to school. She is really no longer viewing school as an experiment she is observing, but as life she is living.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Riding Lessons, by Sara Gruen

Picked this up from a bargain table because "Water for Elephants" was so good. This one, not so much. The book starts out a lot like "The Horse Whisperer," in that a promising young woman and her amazing horse have a horrible accident, the horse has to be destroyed, and the girl breaks her neck requiring long months of hospitalization and rehab. Once out of the hospital, she never rides again.

That "back story" is dispatched in a few pages, then we get to the "real" story: now in her 30s, Our Heroine is let go from her job, her husband leaves her for his much younger intern, her daughter is all but expelled from school, and her mother calls to tell her that her father has ALS and only a few months to live.

Again, this is set forth in another few pages, and then we launch into the pity-party that is the rest of the book. Our Heroine (the book is written in first person, and I don't remember if she even has a name, much less what it is) takes her daughter and returns to her childhood home in New Hampshire at a horse ranch. Dad's disease is pretty advanced and she finds it hard to even look at him. She starts to take over running the ranch, and manages to get into serious financial trouble while simultaneously running afoul of the law. The horse that was destroyed 20+ years ago? Has a brother, who was supposedly burned to death in a barn fire. She recognizes him, buys him, tries to disguise him from insurance investigators, bounces all sorts of checks, avoids talking to her divorce lawyer, yadda yadda. . .

Frankly, I got tired of this book after the first few chapters, and skipped around to see if it was worth finishing. It wasn't. However, rest assured that Our Heroine finds true love, gets back on a horse, gets her daughter interested in horse training, and saves the farm. And the horse.

Yes, you say, but does she find old sheet music in the attic, and put on a show?

Life is too short to spend time on this book.

Exit Music, by Ian Rankin

This is the last book of the Inspector Rebus series, and I'm ready to be done with him too. Rebus is one week from retirement when the book opens, and finishes his last day at the end. Rankin has hinted that he may continue the series with the younger cops from the series, but that Rebus is done.

Will I follow the Further Adventures of Siobhan Clarke? Maybe. . . .

This mystery has a decided international flavor, when an expatriot Russian poet is found beaten to death in a dark alley, in the same week a large number of Russian "businessmen" are visiting Edinburgh and being lavishly wined and dined and flaunting their new wealth. Down in London, a Russian journalist has been poisoned (this really happened) by a rare radioactive isotope. Soon afterward, the sound man who recorded the poet's last reading is found dead when his home is torched.

Rebus and Clarke believe these to be connected--the fire was apparently set to destroy all the recordings that were made. Some of those recordings were of a series of Parliamentary committee hearings addressing urban development proposals backed by some of the Russians. Suspicions are further aroused at the repeated appearance of several banking big wigs. And Cafferty.

Cafferty is Rebus's bete noire, the Hyde to his Jekyll. Throughout the series, Rebus has tried repeated to get Cafferty put away for good. In an earlier book in the series, Cafferty gets out of prison by switching x-rays so it looks as if he is dying of cancer. Of course he isn't, and he gets away with it.

In this book, Cafferty is meeting with the Russians, clearly putting together some big (and undoubtedly shady) land deals. He also owns the building where Nancy lives--Nancy who was the one to discover the Poet's dead body. His continued criminal activity has become a personal insult to Rebus. Not to be heavy-handed with the metaphor, or anything, but numerous characters mention that the two of them are "very similar." Rebus is assumed to be too close to Cafferty and believed to be his friend. Simultaneously, he is also fixated on arresting Cafferty and has to be warned off so he doesn't interfere with a large scale financial crimes case being made against him by the Scottish DEA.

So, the good stuff in these books is still good--Rankin shows Edinburgh in its many contradictory facets--the rich and poor, the natives and the tourists, business and government, elegant hotels and seedy pubs. The criminal investigations are convincingly dreary and often the cops are casting about for any leads, unable to quickly resolve these complicated crimes.

But the bad starts to outweigh the good for me, at least after about 5 of these books. Rebus gets less and less pleasant to spend time with. He is ham fisted in his investigation, bullying witnesses, co-workers, and friends. The farther he is from the truth (as it turns out, later) the nastier he gets, often just for the sake of being nasty. And he's dangerously impulsive, as well as oppositional, hardly more than a toddler in his emotional development.

For example, at one point, he sends the DEA agents on a wild goose chase, just so he can talk to Cafferty without being observed. Why? What was so important that he had to go at just that minute? Nothing. When the DEA guys find out they were jerked around, not only are they angry, but it turns out that while they were gone, somebody went and coshed Cafferty--landing him in a coma for the duration of the book. Whose the obvious suspect? Rebus, of course. Only because he couldn't wait a damn minute once he decided he needed to talk to Cafferty.

Worse is what happens to Siobhan Clarke during the course of this book. Supposedly, once Rebus retires, there will be a promotion slot available, and Clarke is the logical person to get it. But like Scully to Mulder, Clarke can't seem to step away from the toxicity that is Rebus. He wants the DEA guys out of the way, so he tells Clarke to make the call. She does. Makes me want to smack her upside the head for being stupid. There is really no evidence that she is in any way ready to be promoted, since she is imcapable of taking a step without Rebus's approval.

Rebus gets himself suspended, yet again. He is not only taken off the case, but barred from the police station for the last three days before his retirement. Yet Clarke consults with him, arranges meetings so he can listen in (either in person, or over her cell phone), follows his orders in calling the DEA agents--when simple interest in her own continued employment should suggest that THIS IS STUPID. And she keeps doing it, over and over again. Sure, occasionally she says "you are suspended, you know." He says "I know," and so then she does whatever he wants her to.

Frankly, if she really was as talented as various characters say she is, they'd have broken up her partnership with Rebus and assigned her to someone who was less suicidal about his career. How can we take her seriously as a cop when she is so clearly a patsy?

Let's talk about that suspension a little bit. Rebus has gone and gotten into the face of the biggest of the bank big wigs, mostly for threatening his step-daughter and insulting his wife. Gratuitously, I might add, since it turns out that the Big Wig has nothing to do with the murders. But, once suspended, his boss DOESN'T TELL ANYBODY. None of the other cops ever learn about it (other than Clarke), so he's free to keep ordering people around and continuing the investigation. Even after he becomes Number One Suspect for Cafferty's coshing, the word of his suspension doesn't get around. It's like he's made out of Teflon.

Probably the most irritating thing for me about these books is that the mystery gets drawn out over hundreds of pages (or a dozen hours or so of audio), but the solution happens all of the sudden at the very end in a couple paragraphs in a rushed and unsatisfying way. The first few times, I thought it was my fault, for getting distracted at the end. Now, I'm convinced it's Rankin's fault.

The dead Poet? The guy who would drink too much and then hit on women (usually willing, due to his inherent Russian sexiness)? Turns out he was beaten to death by a jealous husband. Nothing to do with the other Russians, or the consulate, or Cafferty at all. What?

The torched sound guy? Apparently the Russian Businessman had his house burned to destroy a recording where he was caught saying "I wish he [the Poet] were dead." He didn't kill the Poet, but committed murder to avoid being charged with murder. What? Plus, the sound guy's murder is treated throughout the book only as confirmation that the Poet's death was not a random mugging gone bad, never as a crime in its own right.

Cafferty? Turns out that a young cop, a temporary addition to the CID, blamed Cafferty and Rebus for his family's bad fortune after his grandfather was jailed on a drugs charge. TWENTY YEARS AGO. Grandpa died in jail OF A HEART CONDITION which would have gotten him anyway, in jail or not. WHEN THE KID WAS FOUR. Like he had any experience of his family before. Sure, Grandpa was dealing drugs for Cafferty, got caught when Cafferty planted more serious drugs in his pub, and Rebus was the cop who testified at the trial, but is that really enough for a two decade vendetta?

Plus, the kid learns that Rebus's trunk doesn't close properly, steals a crime scene sanitary suit, and manages to cosh Cafferty and frame Rebus in the few minutes between Rebus leaving Cafferty alive and the DEA agents coming back from their wild goose chase. Sure. He happens to be away from all the other cops, with the stolen crime scene suit, which he is wearing, with whatever weapon he used (never revealed, by the way), attacks Cafferty, plants a boot to tie Rebus to the scene, burns the rest of the suit, and goes back to work without being noticed, and without any change in his demeanor? This quiet, churchy young guy?

Who also happens to have a girlfriend who is a Scene of Crime Officer, and so would herself have plenty of suits, so there is no reason to take one from Rebus? And, of course, since a boot was found at the scene, it had to belong to Rebus and nobody else? It just makes no sense.

At the end of the book, in the epilogue, Rebus and Clarke go to visit Cafferty in the hospital, and he conviniently flat-lines while they are there. Rebus--in a near cliche of not being able to let go--jumps onto the bed and administers CPR, unwilling to let Cafferty die without being convicted of his crimes. "Will he be all right?" Rebus demands. "Will he be all right?" THE END.

I guess my feeling is that Rebus has become too formulaic, to the point of sacrificing the characters in favor of clumsy plotting to keep him an outsider, a renegade, a stereotypical lone wolf cop figure. I guess I'm done with him too.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Book of Air and Shadows, by Michael Gruber

Somehow, I have fallen into what seems like a series of books about William Shakespeare. This is one that creates a treasure hunt for an unknown play, written in Shakespeare's own hand -- which would be nearly priceless, as well as creating new opportunities for scholarship. Academics, book sellers, gangsters and thugs are all after the prize.

Gruber gives the reader three different narratives. The first is a first person account by intellectual property lawyer Jake Mishkin, who is asked to provide information about the copyright status of a 17th century document that may point to the unknown play, as well as a record of spying on him. Of course, there is almost nothing known about William Shakespeare outside of his plays, so even a sample of his handwriting would be incredibly valuable. A record of his actions reported by spies would open new areas of scholarship. A handwritten play--a previously unknown work--would be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The second narrative is told in the third person, following Albert Crosetti, a young man saving to go to film school, who does computer inventory for a used/rare book seller. It is Crosetti who discovers the 17th century documents under the bindings of a set of books damaged by fire. He has fallen into the spell of Carolyn Rolly, the shopkeeper's assistant and amateur book binder.

The final narrative is the text of the ancient documents, written by one Richard Bracegirdle. Injured in battle and dying, he writes the story of his life to his wife to pass on to their young son. In this letter he mentioned having been sent to spy on "William Shaxpure" to reveal him as a papist. The second document is also by Bracegirdle, and is an encrypted message. The final document appears to be a draft of a letter, with corrections and edits marked in pencil.

Mishkin is holed up in a remote cabin, listening for sounds that the Russians are coming to kill him, passing the time writing his own life story. He first encounters the Bracegirdle documents when a Professor Bulstrode comes to consult him about the copyright on the letter from Bracegirdle to his wife. Bulstrode ends up leaving the manuscript with Mishkin, who puts it in a safe deposit box. Soon thereafter, Bulstrode turns up tortured to death, and his heir and niece turns up interested in the document. She manages to trick Mishkin out of the documents, disappearing with the letter in an apparent kidnapping--until the real niece turns up.

Crosetti's story starts with a fire in the basement of the bookshop where he works. He manages to save most of the most precious books, but a multi-volume work gets damaged, and the owner decides to break the books and sell the plates and prints inside. Crosetti and Carolyn Rolly take the books to carolyn's loft, where she plans to repair and resell the books. As she takes the leather binding off the first volume, Crosetti notices that it has been padded with old papers with writing on them. He coaxes Carolyn to take out the padding from all the books, and these turn out to be the Bracegirdle documents. Crosetti thinks he can read the old fashioned handwriting, and thinks it might have something to do with Shakespeare. Carolyn convinces him to take the papers to a Shakespeare expert she knows--who turns out to be Professor Bulstrode, who scoffs at the claim to Shakespeare, and offers to buy the letter for much less then it is worth--$3500. Carolyn manipulates Crosetti into taking the offer, but he has cleverly withheld the other two documents and Bulstrode doesn't know about them.

So the documents have been split up, and somebody is after them--whoever it was that killed Bulstrode. Carolyn Rolly also goes missing. These two story threads run more or less in parallel, until about midway through when Mishkin finally meets Crosetti, and the Russians burst in to kill them. At that point, although Crosetti is willing to give up the documents, being a smart guy--it is decided that the only way to get the bad guys off their backs is to solve the encryption and find the alleged play.

Gruber does a pretty good job in giving these amateurs the expert help they need; although at the expense of developing believable backstories for them. In fact, they start to read like stereotypical Quirky Characters than real individuals. There is the Olympic Weightlifting Giant Intellectual Property Lawyer; his Rich Best Friend & Shakespeare Expert; the Former Juvenile Delinquent Jesuit Priest; the International Supermodel; and the Jewish Bookie Ex-Patriot. We are also given the Computer Genius, whose family is even further beyond belief: mom is a Reference Librarian who knows all the other reference librarians in the world, and also keeps obscure cryptology reference books in the house, first sister is a cop, second sister a lawyer, mom's new boyfriend a former KGB spy from Poland.

What follows is a convoluted mess of schemes, double crosses, double crossing double crossers, and a confusing list of players and plots. Crosetti mentions The Maltese Falcon and Chinatown several times, which is the level of complexity Gruber provides. In the end, two different sets of ruthless mobsters are after the play, and Our Gang has to out spend, out speed, out resource, and out muscle these international professionals. Which, of course, they do--and find the manuscript.

Everybody shows up at the remote lodge where Mishkin is hiding out, and yet another round of double-crosses is introduced. The manuscript is forged, says Mishkin, so are the Bracegirdle documents, which were planted so an innocent guy would find them and create the appearance of veracity. Mishkin then fingers his Best Friend & Shakespeare Expert as the brains behind the scam, and the mobster is convinced. So he grabs the play and throws it into the fire. And Best Friend dives in after it.

After his flames are put out, everyone is convinced that the documents are real. The mob is going to put everybody else into a boat and blow it up. However, our amateurs once again out think and out shoot the professionals, and in the end the Cop Sister rescues everybody because her brother called ahead. In an epilogue, Mishkin grows up a bit and tries to reconcile with his estranged wife; Crosetti and Carolyn are seeing each other; everybody's kids are out of jeopardy; Crosetti sells a screenplay based on the whole thing; and there is lots of litigation over the ownership of the copyright, so there's lots of work for the lawyer.

Clearly, this is not a exercise in profound pholosophical meditation, although it is not without redeeming value. A world in which people are passionate about Shakespeare isn't all bad, after all. Mishkin gets a complicated family background, and doesn't end up totally happy ever after. However, as Crosetti comments several times--the whole story is more like a movie than real life, complete with a last big twist. Several loose threads are never acknowledged, much less tied up: how did the Bracegirdle documents end up bound in books about a hundred years later? Where had they been? Why would anybody be named Bracegirdle?

There are some charming scenes in which Bracegirdle reports to his masters what Shakespeare does during his days, and what sort of man he is. Also, the report of the unknown Shakespeare play is clever: it is The Tragedy of Mary Queen of Scots, in which the lives of Mary and Elizabeth are mirrored as each woman recognizes that what she lacks the other has. Yet they must be enemies due to politics--even though each is the only person in the world who would understand the other.

There is yet another layer of double dealing and treachery in the Bracegirdledocuments. He is impressed into the job of spying because Shakespeare is suspected of being a secret Catholic. James I is looking to marry his older son to a Spanish princess, who would also be Catholic, thus endangering Protestant England, in addition to being Wrong about religion generally. The plan is to trick Shakespeare into writing a play about Mary, Queen of Scots (James' mother) that will show her as sympathetic and Queen Elizabeth as foul and evil. Shakespeare will be revealed as a Catholic, the theaters will have to be shut down, and James will have to abandon the Spanish Match. However, the plotters are found out, and Bracegirdle is left hanging, so he tells Shakespeare all about it, and together they conclude that the play is too dangerous to exist, so they work together to bury it, because they cannot bring themselves to burn it.

Of course, even had the plot not been discovered, the play was not at all what the conspirators were looking for: after all, it was written by Shakespeare. Both Mary and Elizabeth were shown as fully rounded women, each with virtues and faults, each of them made sympathetic and thus the play would have been useless as a piece of political blackmail. Shakespeare wasn't really known for writing agit-prop, after all. That's not why we still read him 400 years later.

This was a better than average thriller--less violence, more interesting subject of the hunt, and at least an attempt at giving Mishkin and Crosetti characters and backgrounds to explain their actions to the reader. Would I go out to buy another book by this author? Not especially. Would I pick one up from the library? Sure. Would I read it on an airplane? Just about perfect for that.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Fool, by Christopher Moore

All right, I really enjoyed this one. Moore is funny, but not consistently so, and some of his books stretch so far that they lose their traction. His recent works, however, are pretty good. A Dirty Job, in which a nebbish finds out he has become Death, and You Suck, his take on vampirism, mine a single vein of humor and contain some wonderful characters.

Fool is Moore's retelling of the story of King Lear, from the perspective of -- yes, you guessed it, Lear's Fool. The Fool is the only character who cares for Lear throughout the play, joining him as he rages on the heath in a thunderstorm and trying to keep him dry and sheltered. Moore's version of the Fool has his own agenda, and actually does a great deal to aggravate the deteriorating relations between Lear and his daughters.

Fool is set in a assemblage of vaguely 13th century England--there are still a lot of pagan practices, but also a definite Christianity, as well as English landmarks from the time. The historical Lear dates back to Roman England, but Moore doesn't want to go that far back, and so he ends up placing the characters in a kind of quasi-RenFair environment, but without the beer wenches.

Moore also deviates from both the Lear myth and the Shakespeare play in his ending. In the myth, Cordelia brings an army from France against her sisters, and restores Lear to the throne, where he rules for another 5 years. In Shakespeare, everybody dies. Mostly. Moore kind of splits the difference, while giving his Fool a happy ending.

The real strength of the book is the language. Sure, Moore can get away with quoting from the play whenever the action of the book coincides--but it takes real cojones to try to play Insult Smack Down with the Bard. And Moore doesn't fully succeed--I don't think Shakespeare ever repeated an insult, while Moore relies rather too heavily on a few words. You can probably guess most of them.

Yet there is something reckless and rushing about this book, and I believe that Moore now knows more about King Lear than anyone else alive today. I listened to this book, and enjoyed hearing the insults played out loud to my ear. I may get the book from the library, to better savor the language.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Locked Rooms, by Laurie R. King

Found this on the discount table for $5, or I'd have just gotten it from the library. This is another in the Mary Russell series, in which this Jewish American/English young (!) woman has married Sherlock Holmes, and they solve mysteries together, often for Holmes brother Mycroft.

In this installment, they leave India and head for the United States. Mary's family died in a car crash when she was 14, and she left for England to live with an aunt. This is her first time back since then. She has estate business to settle, but as the boat approaches California, she has three recurring nightmares that only get worse. A little armchair psychoanalysis by Holmes, and she is forced to realize that she and her family were living in San Francisco during the 1906 earthquake, and that something happened to affect her family, but that she has shut away the memory in the "locked room" of her mind.

Poor Russell not only has to deal with the estate matters, and the trauma of remembering the big earthquake and fire, but she believes she caused the auto accident that killed the rest of her family. She was squabbling with her brother in the back seat, which caused her father to pull his attention away from the road when the accident happened. She was thrown clear, and the rest of her family died.

Much of the book is taken up with Russell's returning memories, and her emotions when she returns to many of her childhood sites. Meanwhile, Holmes is scurrying around watching over her, hiring Dashiell Hammett as a temporary sidekick, and generally investigating Russell's past. He becomes convinced that her parents were killed deliberately, and that it was not Russell's fault at all. She refuses to see it, and insists there is no mystery for over 300 pages of a 400 page novel.

It turns out that something happened during the 1906 earthquake--a former black sheep friend of Charles Russell, Russell's father, showed up with a tin of cash and jewels that he had looted during the fires, and asked Russell to keep it hidden in his garden. Charles was disgusted, but felt his former friend had some claim to him, so Charles wrote out a check for the value of the loot and told his friend to never come back.

This lead to some strife between Russell's parents, and her mother took the children to live in England for the next six years, apparently to keep them safe from this "friend." The family reunited in San Francisco, and Charles was scheduled to enter the army for WWI. So he wrote a letter explaining what his friend had done, as well as his part in it, on the theory that then it could not be the basis of blackmail.

The false friend found out something about this letter, and sabotaged the brakes to silence the family. Turns out he also killed Russell's psychiatrist and the two servants from the house. When Mary Russell returned, he tried to find and destroy the letter, or kill her as well.

The most interesting part of this novel is the reverse feng shui Holmes uses to locate the hidden loot. This is (potentially) like those fun old Golden Age detective novels, where the criminal leaves clever clues, or Your Rich Uncle converted his fortune into rare stamps, then put the hiding place into a secret crossword puzzle inlaid in the tile at the bottom of the swimming pool. Sadly, King simply brings in a Chinese Master, who stares at a map, then points to spot. Gone is the chance to intrigue us with the cleverness of the plot, or give us some information on this odd practice, and what Holmes thinks about it. Instead, it basically happens off stage, and we don't get to go on a treasure hunt. Bummer.

Of course, Laurie R. King is a very good writer, and it's certainly an enjoyable story. But I would have liked more mystery and less psychoanalysis.