Philip Gilbert, a trader in Sherlock Holmes collectibles, turns up
dead in a gun emplacement in Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
There is enough crime to go around, so it comes as no surprise when
the Park police turn jurisdiction over to SFPD without so much as a
peep. After all, the victim's home --- and possibly crime scene ---
is in the City. So Detectives Kate Martinelli and Al Hawkin head
over to Gilbert's house with crime scene investigators. Stepping
inside, they feel like they are being transported to another time:
The entire first floor is patterned after 221B Baker Street,
authentic right down to the kitchen fittings and gas sconces. Is
this a case of an anachronistic victim fallen prey to a modern
Moriarty, or a Holmes fanatic murdered for a valuable relic?
Bemused by the evidence, Kate employs her own kind of detecting,
relying on modern techniques, forensics, intuition and, yes, a
little deductive reasoning. She finds no shortage of suspects.
There's an attorney, suspicious because he's simply too helpful; a
voyeuristic neighbor; an apathetic ex-wife; and possibly a gay
lover, which might account for the ex-wife's apathy. But best of
all, there's the entire membership of The Strand Diners, a group
drawn together by one, and only one, thing in common: Sherlock
Holmes. And Philip Gilbert was the self-appointed head of this odd
assortment of devotees. Says one of the current Diners: "Philip ...
was one of the founding members, fifteen, twenty years ago. I doubt
he missed more than one or two meetings in all the years I've known
As a one-time member of a Holmes fan club, I know just how avid (or
should I say obsessed) the members can be. One of the founders of
my club had missed only one meeting in the 10 years of its
existence, and that was because her father died that day. She would
have come anyway, she said, but feared it might make the others
uncomfortable. So, you see, anything's possible when it comes to
the devoted Sherlockians.
While busily checking motives and alibis among the club, neighbors,
and various and sundry others, Kate gets wind of an old manuscript.
Written during a time it is believed that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
visited the Bay Area, speculation circulates that Doyle himself may
have been the author. But it needs authentication, which Gilbert
seemed to be working on at the time of his death. With the story
set in San Francisco and recounting a tale about a body that turns
up in the same Park gun emplacement, the direction of the
investigation takes a bit of a curve. In the middle of the case,
Kate takes time out to read the manuscript --- and we read right
along with her. It's like getting two mysteries in one!
Meanwhile, Kate juggles her domestic life with her professional
one, as difficult for this fictional detective as it is for
real-life ones. Her lover, Lee, and daughter Nora compete with SFPD
for Kate's time. Lee takes a change of family plans very poorly. In
fact, she jealously guards scheduled vacations and days off. Plus,
no one wants to disappoint little Nora. Despite all the demands on
her time, Kate handily wraps up the case, with all the drama and
happy endings you would expect of Laurie R. King.
Chockfull of red herrings, Holmes trivia and alternative family
scenarios, THE ART OF DETECTION is good old-fashioned fun meets
modern San Francisco bizarre.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on December 22, 2010