To Play the Fool
One part of the Twenty Weeks of Buzz is a retrospective of the LRK oeuvre—a fancy way of saying that I’ll be looking at each of my twenty books, a week at a time. Next we have To Play the Fool, the second Kate Martinelli novel, published in 1995.
“This fellow is wise enough to play the fool.”
I did a BA in Comparative Religion from UC Santa Cruz, part of the requirements for which was a final thesis project. I chose to do mine on “The Role of the Fool in Western Culture,” a topic that exercised my long-time interest in archetypal psychology and which drew on images ranging from the Trickster of Native American religion to the Russian Holy Fools movement of the Orthodox Church. As the header, I gave part of the song “American Pie”:
The jester sang for the king and queen
In a coat he’d borrowed from James Dean
And a voice that came from you and me.
And when the king was looking down
The jester stole his thorny crown…
Sixteen years later I had one novel in print and another in the works, and the welcome but nonetheless pressing question from my editor, “What’s next?”
So being a good Californian, I recycled. I went back to the Fool and tried to envision what a holy fool would be in the modern world.
Of course, the Fool is a product of the feudal system. He (usually he) exists to guarantee that an absolute ruler has at least one person offering criticism. The Fool’s job is to remind the king that he is not God.
It is, as one might expect, a dangerous position. Kings do not always appreciate the voice of unreason, the introduction of doubt into absolute surety, the presence of chaos injected in a concretized society. Kings tend to become vexed, and to remove the heads of their critics.
However, if the Fool’s task of pointing out the tarnish on the crown depends on the presence of a crown, what does he do when all the world is crowned? Who plays the fool in a society of kings, when none of us have absolute power? That is the question around which I shaped Brother Erasmus.
One of the distinct characteristics of my particular Fool is that he speaks in the words of others. When asked a question, Erasmus retrieves a quote from the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, Shakespeare, or a number of other sources and applies it to the situation at hand.
This makes the job of a police interrogation somewhat tricky.
Kate Martinelli is a homicide inspector of the San Francisco Police Department is the modern equivalent of a king’s armored knight. A police department can only function when it is built on concrete, based on the assumption that it alone bears the right, that it alone holds the authority. A cop faced with a Fool, one who answers the most straightforward question with a convoluted response, is like a king faced with a court jester.
It is hardly surprising that Kate Martinelli sympathizes with the urge to behead the upstart idiot.