The Art of Detection
By Laurie King
San Francisco police detective Kate Martinelli calls it the case of the dead Sherlockian, the apparent murder of a rich man so obsessed with Sherlock Holmes that he had two floors of his house made into a replica of Holmes' Baker Street digs. The first 100 pages of King's novel proceed as a police investigation would, slowly, with Martinelli sorting through the superfluous details, but the case becomes more tantalizing when she stumbles on a possible motive for Philip Gilbert's death: He had just purchased, secretly and for a song, a previously undiscovered story that might have been written by Arthur Conan Doyle during a visit to San Francisco in the 1920s. If the manuscript is genuine, an expert tells Martinelli, it will "change the face of the Holmesian scholarship" and be worth a fortune. We get to read the mysterious tale along with Martinelli (it's narrated by Holmes himself), and while King does take liberties with the detective and his fanatical
followers, it's all in the name of a good story.
A Student of Living Things
By Susan Richards Shreve
Shreve's new novel is set in a vaguely described, post-Sept. 11 time period marked by acts of domestic terrorism. It begins when we learn that a law student and political activist named Steven Frayn was assassinated two years earlier on the steps of a university library in Washington DC, while his younger sister, Claire, stood nearby. No sooner does Claire, Shreve's narrator, tell us this than she shifts gears and spends 60 pages describing her odd and disconnected family, a section so full of digression that many readers will be tempted to jump ship. They shouldn't, because the story becomes suspenseful with the turn of a page when Claire finally describes the day of Steven's death and its aftermath. On her first trip back to the library where he died, she's approached by a mysterious man who says he was Steven's friend and might know who killed him. He asks the grieving Claire to help lure the murderer into a trap and she, happy to have "a flesh-and-blood enemy," agrees. It's a story of menace and vulnerability that starts badly but in the end is hard to put down.
I Had the Right to Remain Silent ... But I Didn't Have the Ability
By Ron White
We have a teenage boy in the house who has all but memorized, and recites without provocation, the script of Blue Collar Comedy Tour: The Movie. We also know people who are erudite and impeccably mannered, yet after a few drinks have been known to adopt competing drawls and swap good ol' boy jokes as if to the trailer park born. This is why we have more than a passing familiarity with Ron White, and why we are adding his book to this column so soon after it arrived at our door. It's easy to read. The type is big, there are lots of illustrations by
cartoonist Matthew Shultz and some pages contain very few lines. But we all know that blue-collar humor is not rocket science. It's unabashedly crass, smells like beer and Cheetos (which White likes to ingest while he sits naked in his bean-bag chair) and caters to our interest in liquor, sex and bodily
functions (human or canine, either will do). Is this book funny? Not as funny as when White delivers his material in person, but have a beer first and you might not know the difference.