Laurie R. King’s writing signature is to weave a rich
tapestry out of deeply complex personalities and events in
panoramic settings, especially in her stand-alone novels. So it is
in TOUCHSTONE, where fans will revel in a virtual re-creation of
post-World War I England.
Manor houses are still owned by the peerage and looked after by a
servant staff, smaller and less formal than in Victorian times but
nonetheless a steadying presence. Industry’s need for coal
has outstripped the meager wages and dangerous working conditions
of the miners, who have not progressed in 50 years, so the Labour
Party and the coal miners are readying for a major strike,
fomenting revolution. Social upheaval between the classes has
divided even within families steeped in centuries of privilege. The
stage is set for a suspenseful gathering of workers, titled members
of Parliament and a charismatic American labor leader, Richard
Bunson, who has arrived in England to stir the fires of
An American FBI agent, Harris Stuyvesant, is dispatched to England
in pursuit of Bunson, a suspected terrorist, who is implicated in
several bombings in the United States. Bunson has attracted a large
following in Great Britain at the outset of the coal union strike
of 1926, not the least of which is his mistress, Lady Laura
Hurleigh, daughter of the Duke of Hurleigh whose lineage spans
centuries of English history.
Her close friend, Sarah Grey, also involved in the labor movement,
has a brother, Bennett Grey, a wounded war veteran whose senses
have been elevated to an exquisite and torturous level from a brain
injury suffered in battle. At the hospital where he underwent
rehabilitation, he was subjected to experimentation by a diabolical
government psychologist, turning him into an emotional time bomb.
An ability to ascertain if people are lying or telling the truth
has turned him into a human lie detector, and his psychologist
began using him as a valuable asset to British Intelligence during
the war. In a violent outburst, Grey attacks his tormentor and
escapes to an isolated, primitive Cornwall farm.
Agent Stuyvesant is directed to Captain Grey by his Machiavellian
inquisitor who dangles Grey as bait to Stuyvesant, hoping he will
lead him to his hideaway. The doctor has his own plans for bringing
Grey back to the hospital to use him in the interests of national
welfare, an act that will destroy Grey’s mental and physical
When Stuyvesant and Grey meet, Grey is sympathetic to
Stuyvesant’s cause and introduces him to his sister.
Together, they stumble into a tangled web of intrigue, violence and
revolution at Hurleigh Manor. Bunson has managed, through Lady
Laura’s help, to set up a secret summit meeting between
mining officials, labor officials and the British Prime Minister to
help settle the strike. The fateful summit brings the principal
characters together for a rip-roaring suspenseful climax.
Laurie R. King is one of the most eloquent writers of suspense in
the current fiction market. Her portrayal of post-World War I
Cornwall and the ancient, fading estate of the landed gentry evokes
an historic time of change in England’s social structure. For
fans who enjoy King’s glorious prose, establishing time,
place and characters, TOUCHSTONE is rich in beautifully crafted
descriptions of a time and society long gone.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on January 23, 2011