Touchstone by Laurie R King is the first of two books featuring Harris Stuyvesant, an American detective. In this first book he is investigating a series of bombings in America and is convinced that the culprit is a senior figure in the British Labour Party. He arrives in Britain, sent reluctantly by the FBI, in 1926 just at the time of the General Strike. The political situation is volatile and Stuyvesant cannot get his evidence nor make anyone in authority take him seriously. He is steered towards Bennett Gray, a man who has some unusual talents, in which the government are interested, and a sister who is close to the political movers and shakers.
The author plays a lot with the idea of people being out of their comfort zone in this book, Stuyvesant spends much of his time at a country house gathering of the great and the good pretending to be a bodyguard but actually trying to find out what is going on. Gray’s extreme sensitivity to lies and obfuscation cause him to be very uncomfortable in the company of politicians. There is always the sense that there will be another bomb. The story builds well to an ending which was surprising and appropriate.
In the second book The Bones of Paris it is few years later. Stuyvesant has left the FBI and is making a living across Europe as a private detective. He ends up in Paris looking for Pip, a young woman who has disappeared and with whom he had a brief liaison. He again involves Gray in his investigations as it transpires that a number of young people have gone missing in recent years. In this story Stuyvesant mixes with the artists and intellectuals of pre-WW1 Paris and again is out of place. There is a rising tension in this book and a real feeling of darkness and danger.
Both these books have something to say about the societies and cultures in which they are set over and above the crime element of the story and the context enriches the reading experience. Stuyvesant is a bit of a thug and not very sophisticated but he is a man with a large heart and very adept at finding out what has happened. Gray is a harder man to like and his additional abilities end up often being more of a disability. The stories are cleverly plotted but very character driven so they are not really fast paced. I enjoyed both these books immensely – the same author has also written two books in modern American which I recently reviewed here.