Celebrated author Laurie R. King dazzles mystery lovers once again in To Play the Fool, her second Kate Martinelli mystery.
The story unfolds as a band of homeless people cremate a beloved dog in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. When it comes to incidents like this, the authorities are willing to overlook a few broken regulations. But three weeks later, after the dog's owner gets the same fiery send-off, the SFPD knows it has a serious problem on its hands.
Other than the fact that they're dealing with a particularly grisly homicide, Inspector Kate Martinelli and her partner, Al Hawkin, have little else to go on. They have a homeless victim without a positive ID, a group of witnesses who have little love for the cops, and a possible suspect, known only as Brother Erasmus.
Kate learns that Erasmus is well-acquainted with the park's homeless and with the rarefied atmosphere of Berkeley's Graduate Theological Union, yet he remains an enigma to all. It's apparent that he is by no means crazy--but he is a fool. Kate begins the frustrating task of interrogating a man who communicates only through quotations. Trying to learn something of his history leads her along a twisting road to a disbanded cult, long-buried secrets, the thirst for spirituality, and the hunger for bloody vengeance.
Like the holy fools whose purposes frame her latest modern mystery, King practices her own magic here, conjuring up, after a slowish start, an indelibly affecting narrative from unexpected material. The murder and botched cremation of a homeless man in Golden Gate Park draws police detective Kate Martinelli, introduced in the 1993 Edgar-winning A Grave Talent, into the world of San Francisco's homeless, whose views of reality differ radically from those of the police. Foremost in this cast is Brother Erasmus, a widely respected monk-like figure, part minister and part mime, who speaks only in quotations. Frustrated in trying to interview Erasmus, Kate gradually connects him to the ``cultivated lunacy'' of a modern Fools' movement which, begun in late-1960s England, disintegrated 15 years later in violence and death. As Erasmus becomes the focus of Kate's official suspicion and personal interest, she enlists, among others, the dean of the Graduate Theological Union at UC-Berkeley and her own invalid female lover, a psychotherapist, to help uncover Erasmus's identity and tragic past. The murder of a homeless woman, whose fitful, articulate intelligence is deftly captured here, brings fresh urgency to the case. The solution makes sure, inevitable sense in both the mundane and spiritual realms that King so thoroughly charts in this moving tale.