Just thinking about Laurie R. King's Touchstone makes my shoulders do that snuggling motion you know, the way you wriggle them as you settle into a really comfortable chair. There's an ancient family afghan keeping your legs warm and a mug of something hot and delicious nearby. It's winter, but you're warm, and soon you'll be transported elsewhere.
Where you'll be after opening Touchstone is 1926 England, a little London, a bit of Cornwall, but mostly Hurleigh House in Gloucestershire, the country home of one of the England's oldest, most distinguished and highly eccentric families. Harris Stuyvesant, an agent of the Bureau of Investigation ( Federal has yet to be added), is on foreign shores to investigate the role of Lady Laura Hurleigh and her Labour politician lover in a series of bombings in the U.S., one of which permanently injured Stuyvesant's younger brother. While trying to get some answers difficult because the British government is preparing for what is expected to be a disastrous general strike Stuyvesant meets the mysterious Aldous Carstairs, who offers to help him in his investigation as long as Stuyvesant helps him with a pet project that just happens to have connections to Stuyvesant's case.
Despite his recognition that Carstairs is slimy and political and no doubt as dangerous as a puddle of gas, Stuyvesant, who, like every other important character in the novel, has a secret motivation, allows Carstairs to involve him with Bennett Grey, a wounded veteran and friend of the Hurleigh family, who, Carstairs reveals, "knows things he should not be able to, as if he sees into people." Grey is the touchstone, the key to The Truth Project, the obsession that runs Carstairs' life. He got away, but now Carstairs sees a way to get him back and Stuyvesant can be used to make that happen. California author King is best known for the best-selling Mary Russell novels, a series that proposes new investigations (and a wife Mary Russell) for Sherlock Holmes. Touchstone is not part of a series, but King is so skillful, so adept at plotting and making her characters come alive, that she leaves you wishing that it were.
Joanne Collings is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C.