Laurie King's first Kate Martinelli mystery, A Grave Talent, won Best First Novel honors from both the Mystery Writers of America and the British Crime Writers' Association. In this fourth installment in the series, King once again displays her talent as both a prose stylist and a masterful plotter in a case that proves to be personally harrowing for her heroine.
While attending a school play one evening, Detective Martinelli gets what appears to be a routine page about a homicide. The murder victim is James Larsen, an airport baggage handler found in the Presidio, handcuffed, strangled, and with stun-gun burns on his chest. And apparently he had a sweet tooth, given the candies found in his pocket. When it comes out that Larsen was an abusive husband whose wife now lives in a shelter, Martinelli's list of suspects takes a distasteful turn. Could the perpetrator be connected with the Ladies of Perpetual Disgruntlement, the group of secretive women (or men) who've lately been terrorizing abusers and rapists around the city with their humorous, updated version of the tar-and-feather treatment? Could it be Larsen's wife, a mousy woman who, nonetheless, is clearly harboring some secrets? Could it be Roz Hall, Martinelli's social crusading feminist minister friend? In each case, rage would be justified, but not murder.
When two additional murder victims with similar profiles--and pockets full of candy--surface, the San Francisco media takes an interest in this latest instance of vigilante justice. The investigation is further complicated by Roz's very public interest in the case of a young Indian bride who she believes was murdered. As Martinelli and her partner Al Hawkins try to sort through the mire of emotional entanglements, personal politics, and public scrutiny, King deftly maneuvers her tale through several carefully crafted turns. The novel is also threaded with Hindu spirituality and images of the dark goddess Kali, a vengeful figure perfectly appropriate in a novel about victimized women striking back. --Patrick O'Kelley