Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"The Art of Detection" by Laurie R. King

This is not one of Laurie R. King's books about Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell.  It's actually part of her series about a modern-day San Francisco cop named Kate Martinelli.  However, it involves Sherlock Holmes a lot -- Martinelli and her partner Al Hawkin have to solve the murder of an extremely dedicated Sherlockian.  There's story-within-the-story too, a hundred pages about Sherlock Holmes prowling around San Francisco in the 1920s-ish era, solving a mystery.  That smaller story fits into the timeline of King's Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes books -- the pair are in San Francisco in her book Locked Rooms.

The Sherlock Holmes story and the murder that Martinelli is investigating dovetail a little too neatly for my taste, but that's a minor quibble.  I'm not going to spend time fussing over a too-neat correlation between different parts of the story, or over the fact that there was too much info-dumping at the beginning of the novel regarding a bunch of ancient gun emplacements.

What I am going to spend most of this post discussing, though, is whether or not I should have read this book.  You see, Kate Martinelli is a lesbian.  The story-within-a-story involves transvestites and gay men (though Sherlock Holmes is never portrayed as being either).  And by the end of the story, Martinelli and her partner have become some of the first San Francisco gay couples to get legally married. 

And I'm one of those people who believe that homosexuality is a sin.  Not a worse sin than murder or lying or dishonoring your parents or committing adultery.  But still, a sin.  As I read this book, I wondered... should I be reading a book which condones sin?  What would my blog readers think when I reviewed the book?  Would they be shocked and saddened to think I'd slid down some sort of slippery moral slope?

Then I read a blog post called "How Big is Your Child's Bubble" at the excellent Lutheran blog Don't Forget the Avaocados.  And then I read another post there, one called "How to Train a Discerning Reader."  And I remembered that one of the reasons I love reading fiction is that it helps me understand people who are very different from me.  A gay cop in California is quite different from me.  And thanks to this book, I now understand some of what life is like for that character.  

I read books about liars.  I read books about murderers (generally ones getting brought to justice, but still).  I read books about people who disobey those in authority over them.  Heck, my favorite book ever involves a would-be bigamist.  None of those sins are any more or less worse than homosexuality, in the eyes of God -- a sin is a sin, that's it.

Is this a carte blanche invitation to read any kind of dreck?  No.  In fact, the same week I read this, I quit reading another novel after only 3 or 4 chapters because it had too much objectionable content.  If The Art of Detection had written-out love scenes, for instance, or too much bad language, or major violence, I would have put it down too, favorite author or no.  

Every person needs to draw their own line of what "objectionable content" makes a book unreadable, of course, but I realized by the end of this book that the reason I did read to the end was that this book wasn't challenging my faith or making me think, "Hmm, maybe this is okay."  I knew I didn't condone of Kate Martinelli's sexual choices, but I wouldn't have condoned them if she'd been living in a heterosexual non-married relationship either.

Particularly Good Bits:

Ancient metal doors surrounded by equally worn concrete were set into the hillsides, remnants of a race of particularly warlike hobbits (p. 20).

"The world of the Sherlockian is littered with pastiches, most of them either bad or just plain silly" (p. 117).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  R for language, violence, and non-graphic sexual content.

Since I reached my goal of 12 books for the I Love Library Books challenge, I'm going to extend my goal to 18 (the "middle grades" level).  This is my 13th book read and reviewed for that challenge.


  1. Well, I can't say this is one that I would ever read, but it does sound interesting. And it is good to keep an open perspective about the books we read. I love Brideshead Revisited and that's a book many Christians shake their finger at. But it's important to understand the wide range of people and beliefs there are in the world, without being shaken by them. I'm going to check out those two blog posts you mentioned about being a discerning reader. 😊

    1. Like I said in the post, everyone needs to heed their on consciences about what they are and aren't comfortable with and challenged by. If we refused to ever read books that involved sins, we wouldn't be able to read the Bible either.

      I hope you enjoyed those articles! She's got so many good thought-provoking posts on her blog, though she's due with her second baby this month, so hasn't posted anything recently.


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