Past Tense 

History informs Laurie R. King's bestselling mysteries.

What if Sherlock Holmes had met a remarkably clever teenage girl, and she had become his sleuthing partner — and then his wife? Reanimating a beloved fictional character created by a fellow novelist who cannot complain from beyond the grave, Laurie R. King appended Holmes with her own creation, pretty proto-feminist Mary Russell, heroine of a popular series of historical mysteries including The Beekeeper's Apprentice, A Monstrous Regiment of Women, and Locked Rooms. Other mysteries by Oakland-born King have earned acclaim as well, including a Lambda Award for 2006's The Art of Detection, which centered around a gay murder victim in San Francisco.

Having studied religion at Berkeley's Graduate Theological Union, she remembers "Holy Hill" nostalgically as "a tree-shaded residential area with one incursion of student life, a short block of shops, cafes, and bookstores surrounded by shingled houses and god-talk." After earning her master's degree there, she "would no doubt have persisted, going on to a Ph.D involving six languages and countless trips to hot and fly-blown archaeological sites, and my published works would have borne titles such as Problems in Ugaritic Phraseology" — but by then she was married, with children. A homemaker, she started writing on a yellow pad one day — "and, like that, I was a writer": a New York Times bestselling writer, soon enough.

King's new novel, Touchstone, features a man whose extraordinary sensitivities brought him intense psychological suffering during World War I. Eight years later, government agencies on both sides of the Atlantic want his help: Might his amazing powers be useful in fighting future, as-yet-undreamed-of wars? Set mainly in Cornwall, it draws upon King's own memories of time spent in Great Britain, her husband's home country. She'll read from Touchstone and discuss her work at Clayton Bookshop (5433 Clayton Rd., Suite D, Clayton) at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 16.


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