A Grave Talent (Kate Martinelli #1) by Laurie R King


Three children have been murdered and Inspector Kate Martinelli is on the case. Unfortunately, not for reasons she’d like:

“…it was not amusing to think that she had been assigned to this specific case because she was relatively photogenic and a team player known for not making waves, that she was a political statement from the SFPD to critics from women’s groups, and, worst of all, that her assignment reflected the incredibly outdated, absurd notion that women, even those without their own, were somehow “better with children.””

And she gets Inspector Alonzo Hawkin as her partner, a recent LA transplant, the new guy thrown on this sticky case to save the necks of the higher-ups. He’s not exactly pleased to be assigned this young and inexperienced Martinelli but he has his own baggage.

So the bodies have been found in a close-knit, remote community owned by John Tyler. No electrical lines, no phones, cars allowed up only twice a week. And yet more than seventy people live there. Eccentrics, beatniks and what not, lots of families and kids, no one who really looks the murderer type.

Then again, there’s that reclusive artist, who, as it turns out, was convicted of killing a child many years ago. But Vaun is concealing an even bigger secret, for she is actually a world-renowned artist who channels the “pain and beauty of life” into her work. Naturally, she is a suspect, but when she nearly dies, Martinelli and Hawkins wonder if it is a suicide attempt or if she is being set up.

“Oh, come on, Al, that’s…”

“Farfetched? Yes. The work of a madman? That too.”

Kate began to shiver. “But why? Why would someone hate her so much? Why not just bang her over the head on one of her walks and make it look like an accident?”



There are many different threads running around this story but it all works thanks to the interesting back stories King weaves together, as well as the great characters she has crafted in Vaun, Kate and Al. And even a strangely charismatic murderer:

“He was very attractive, sexy, dark and dangerous, aloof . He exuded an aura of secret power. And he was an outsider, but by choice, rather than being left out. That was a feeling I craved, that self-assurance. Together we could look down on everyone else. I felt chosen, powerful, unafraid— even pretty, for those few months.”

And one of my favourite things about this book was the way San Francisco and the Bay Area glimmered throughout.


From lovely descriptions of its gorgeous – and famous – views:

“Of all views of the bridge that dominated this side of the city, it was this one she loved the best— still dark, but with the early commute beginning to thicken the occasional headlights that passed at what seemed like arm’s reach. The Bay Bridge was a more workmanlike structure than the more famous Golden Gate Bridge, but the more beautiful for it. Alcatraz, which lay full ahead of the house, could be seen from this side by leaning a bit.”

To the little details about life in the Bay Area, such as the occasional blackouts and its microclimates:

“In San Jose a huge area of the grid went abruptly black, and a thousand newcomers to Silicon Valley cursed and cracked their shins on the furniture as they searched blindly for flashlights and the stubs of Christmas candles. Old-timers just went to bed and told each other that it would be all over in the morning.”

“The rain began again an hour later, with that slow steadiness and determination that makes the natives of the Pacific coast check their supplies of candles and firewood.”

“It was a glorious day, San Francisco at her spring finest. The smattering of off-season tourists along Fisherman’s Wharf looked stunned at their fortune, having expected fog or rain, but the rains were nearly over for the year, and fog is a summer resident. The sky was intensely blue and clear, with an occasional crisp white cloud to cast a shadow across water and buildings for contrast. A fresh breeze raised whitecaps, but the sun warmed the bones even on the top deck. Berkeley looked about ten feet away, Mt. Tamalpais was at her most maternal, and a sprinkling of triangular sails studded the blue waters where Northern California’s more successful computer wizards and drug importers took a day at play.”

King, after all, is a third-generation Bay Area resident born and bred, having been born in Oakland and now residing in the Santa Cruz region. So she knows her stuff.

And this book solidly places King in my Read-Everything mental list. I love her Mary Russell (aka Mrs Holmes) series, and enjoyed her most recent release, Bones of Paris, and with the Kate Martinelli series, she has created another appealing female lead (and gruff but charming male sidekick – ok so they are partners but it really is Martinelli’s story) and King’s affection for the Bay Area is just contagious. If you have never read anything by King before, please give her a go! Her books are quite something.


This is my first read for RIP VIII

lauriekingLaurie R. King is the New York Times bestselling author of ten Mary Russell mysteries, five contemporary novels featuring Kate Martinelli, and the acclaimed novels A Darker Place, Folly, Keeping Watch, andTouchstone. She lives in Northern California where she is currently at work on her next novel.

Kate Martinelli mysteries
A Grave Talent (1993)
To Play the Fool (1995)
With Child (1996)
Night Work (2000)
The Art of Detection (2006)

Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes mysteries
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (1994)
A Monstrous Regiment of Women (1995)
A Letter of Mary (1997)
The Moor (1998)
O Jerusalem (1999)
Justice Hall (2002)
The Game (2004)
Locked Rooms (2005)
The Language of Bees (2009)
The God of the Hive (2010)
Beekeeping for Beginners (an ebook novella) (2011)
Pirate King (2011)
Garment of Shadows (2012)

Stuyvesant and Grey series
(Historical novels of suspense, featuring FBI agent Harris Stuyvesant and injured British soldier Bennett Grey)
Touchstone (2007)
The Bones of Paris (2013)

Non-series books
A Darker Place [UK title: The Birth of a New Moon] (1999)
Folly (2001)
Keeping Watch (2003)
Califia’s Daughters (as Leigh Richards) (2004)


  1. I love her Kate Martinelli books, and I keep hoping that she is going to write another one one of these days. I’m hoping to visit San Francisco one of these days, in part because of the lovely descriptions in her books.


  2. I remember loving this series but I don’t remember anything about it specifically (thanks for the refresh!) so I guess it’s time to reread and, finally, finish the last one. Are you planning to read on?


  3. I’ve read most of the Mary Russell books, I have to read the most recent, but for some reason haven’t given her more contemporary work a go yet. I think I’ll have to rectify that.


  4. I really loved this book, too. As you say, the author really paints a picture of the environs. This is one of those books in which the setting becomes a character. I’ve enjoyed several other novels in this series, though none so much as this one.


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