The OTHER Laurie R. King

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the kinds of stories

that I can’t tell inside the world of Mary Russell. So I decided

to write a few blogs about those stories, and what

I could do with them, and them alone.

I’ve been thinking about the non-Russells partly because I’ve been writing a standalone novel—but also because the act of writing that standalone has returned me to the raw basics of storytelling. Namely: how do I do it, and why? What can I do with fiction that I can’t do by writing history, or poetry, or blog posts? And once I choose fiction, what kinds of stories can I set amidst a series of historical make-believe, and what kinds can’t I tell there?

I remember some years ago reading the most recent of Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar books—a brilliantly jocular series about a sports agent and his sociopathic sidekick—and thinking that the last couple of outings seemed to be growing less comfortable with the premise. I wasn’t surprised when Harlan branched out into big standalone thrillers: he’d been trying to write that kind of a story within the Myrons, and it didn’t fit.

I realized early on that there were stories I couldn’t put in a Russell & Holmes setting. After The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and A Letter of Mary, I sat down to tell a story about a female Rembrandt—and I couldn’t find a way in. Oh, I could have planted a 1920s woman artist in my essentially whimsical series (and did, in The Language of Bees) but not one that moved and acted the way I wanted her to. Not one who wrestled with what I wanted her to face.

In Laurie R. King’s A Grave Talent, a series of shocking murders has occurred, the victims far too innocent and defenseless. For lesbian Detective Kate Martinelli, just promoted to Homicide and paired with a seasoned cop who’s less than thrilled to be handed a green partner, it’s a difficult case that just keeps getting harder.

Then the police receive what appears to be a case-breaking lead: it seems that one of the residents of this odd colony is Vaun Adams, arguably the century’s greatest woman painter—and a notorious felon, convicted of a heinous crime.

Grave Talent began with two ideas: What would Rembrandt look like if he were a woman?  And, Can I write a novel in which the protagonist does nothing?

The question of women in what are generally assumed to be men’s roles was one I had been poking around for years, although for the most part in the world of theology rather than crime fiction—I wrote my Masters thesis on the feminine aspects of the God of the Old Testament, and as a graduate student had co-led a seminar in Women in the New Testament.  First-century women rabbis, the influence Moses’ wife had on the future of Judaism, God as Mother: all topics I had explored.  (To say nothing of the practical applications of The Feminine, since I also had small children at the time.)

So, the seed: Artists are possessed by their vision of the world and their need to give it expression.  And the greater the artist, the more complete the possession—and, the more impossible they are as human beings: egomaniacal, manipulative, and willing to devour every scrap of energy in their vicinity…and mostly male.

Whether by nature or by upbringing, fewer women are so thoroughly possessed by this near-pathological self-importance. But if we did have a woman like this, and if she did possess the inborn talent that goes far to justifying the artist’s egomania, what would she look like, and how would it shape the world around her? Yes, the question is usually, Why have there been no great woman artists? In A Grave Talent we ask rather, If confronted by a truly great woman artist, how would the world react?

Vaun Adams is less a character in the book than she is a force of nature.  Her raw and uncontrollable talent, her utter fixation on the canvas at hand and the resultant blindness to those around her, changes everything she comes near: Like a black hole, the intensity of her presence tugs everyone else out of their given orbits.

As such, Vaun is both the book’s central character and a character totally apart from the action.  She—her talent—forms the central axis of the story, and all the other characters—neighbors, lovers, the police, the murderer—spin madly around the solidity of her presence.  Yet she does act, at the very end: She abandons her aloofness, comes out of her extreme retreat, and plays a role.

And when she does, the shock of her motion throws those spinning around her to the four winds.

* * *

Excerpt, discussion guide, and order information are here.


  1. Kay Kay on February 25, 2017 at 9:04 am

    When will we be honoured with another Martinelli mystery?

    • Laurie King on February 25, 2017 at 9:57 am

      The next time I manage to double the working hours in a year…

      • Kay Kay on February 25, 2017 at 11:33 am

        Have you, at least, an idea for another installment in this brilliant series?

        • Laurie King on February 26, 2017 at 10:52 am

          A small one, in the back of my mind…

      • Storyteller Mary on February 25, 2017 at 4:04 pm

        Excellent answer. We voracious readers could wear out authors if you don’t take precautions against our neediness. I used to have to declare similar reality checks on the time needed to return papers to students. 😉
        Thanks for the work you do, and I can hardly wait for your next . . .
        (I had expected a mistaken identity story, as I have experienced with “the other” Mary Garrett).

  2. Merrily Taylor on February 25, 2017 at 12:46 pm

    It has been lo these many years since I read “A Grave Talent.” Guess I’m going to have to go back and read it again!

  3. Sue Burnam on February 25, 2017 at 12:50 pm

    I am a religious studies person (two MAs and current adjunct status), a little older than you, and have always enjoyed knowing of that connection with your own background. A couple of comments: first, it is high time for me to reread the non-Russell books, at least A Grave Talent and To Play the Fool (with a nod toward Harvey Cox).
    As a (miserly and prodigious) library patron, I seldom actually BUY a work of fiction, but I do own A Letter of Mary. And I think of it as a Mary book, rather than a Russell book. You should take that as a compliment.
    With much respect,

    • Laurie King on February 26, 2017 at 10:52 am

      I’m honored!

  4. Karen B on February 25, 2017 at 1:05 pm

    I was wondering if you found the world of Mary Russell a bit limiting, perhaps even frustrating, as it doesn’t allow for as much exploration of questions and themes as stand-alone novels.

    Vaun is a fascinating character, disturbing in her absolute intensity and absorption.

    • Laurie King on February 26, 2017 at 10:54 am

      Occasionally, but then any novel presents the writer with limitations. So long as I don’t have to live with the characters more than a couple years running, my irritation with them doesn’t seem to get out of hand…

  5. John Thomas Bychowski on February 25, 2017 at 1:33 pm

    I have said it before (and generally been branded an apostate); as much as I enjoy (which is very much) the Mary Russell stories, for my taste your best writing and storytelling occurs in your variety of standalone/short series novels. This is one of the reasons I am looking forward to Lockdown with high anticipation!

    • Laurie King on February 26, 2017 at 10:54 am

      Bless you, John.

  6. Victoria on February 25, 2017 at 1:42 pm

    I love the Martinelli books. A Grave Talent got me into writing myself. It had such an impact on me. I’ve just finished writing my first novel.

    • Laurie King on February 26, 2017 at 10:50 am

      Congratulations! Good luck with it–but don’t neglect to start your second!

  7. Sue Lester on February 25, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    I thought I’d read everything you’d written, but I don’t recall “A Grave Talent”. I’ll have to check it out.
    I don’t know how others feel about the Russell series, but I’m losing interest. I found “The Murder of Mary Russell” disappointing.
    Although I’ve enjoyed most of the Russell series, your stand-alones are some of your best. “Folly” is my favorite and “Touchstone” is a close second.

  8. Sue Thompson on February 25, 2017 at 2:55 pm

    I wonder if all of us Sue’s are about the same age (I’ll be 55 next month)? Anyway my absolute favourite Laurie R King novel is, and always has been Folly, closely followed by The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, then the Martinelli series. The complexity of the characters is just outstanding; I can see Rae. I’m looking forward to the new one, and I haven’t read The Murder of Mary Russell yet, so I’ve got some catching up to do!

  9. Judy on February 25, 2017 at 4:50 pm

    Well, if we are talking about stand alones, and our favorites, then mine is Califia’s Daughters by your pseudonym, Leigh Richards. I loved its strong women characters who can do anything in a future, post apocalyptic setting. Laurie, why did you write this stand alone under a pseudonym, and yet the other stand alones are written as LRK?

    • Laurie King on February 26, 2017 at 10:55 am

      It was the publishers’ decision–and recent editions have my name on the cover, too.

  10. MT on February 25, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    Rereading Monstruous Regiment… again. It makes me reflect on your religious studies and wonder if you have actually met or known an actual mystic.

    I do love the Mary Russell books, but you must follow your instincts when writing. (I absolutely loved Folly, also.)

    • Laurie King on February 26, 2017 at 10:49 am

      I wonder if I have? Being the pragmatic sort, I tend to classify such people as nut-jobs, though affectionately so.

  11. Brad on February 25, 2017 at 6:56 pm

    If you create a memorable character like Mary Russell, the expectation of your agent and readers is to write more of the same.
    You are grateful to that character for what they have helped you accomplish, but you don’t want to be hemmed in by them.
    Brava for mixing it up.

  12. Linda Thorsen on February 25, 2017 at 7:24 pm

    A Grave Talent was the first of your books that I read years ago. From that time, I’ve thought of your novels as tending to center on and reveal one particular strong personality. I always ask myself, “who will it be this time?”

  13. Diane Vance on February 25, 2017 at 7:24 pm

    I am re-reading the Mary Russell stories after discovering them only 5 years ago’ I haven’t read the Murder of Mary Russell yet. I love them, needless to say! Touchstone is my favorite so far. perhaps because my ex deployed in Desert Storm; my son and son-in-law had tours in Iraq this century.

  14. Margaret Wood on February 26, 2017 at 12:05 am

    I greatly enjoyed the Grave Talent series and had hoped for more. However, you also need a life.

    The one i have loved best of all is “Folly” which I heard when I was new to audio-books, narrated by the late, great Frank Muller.

  15. susan on March 2, 2017 at 3:08 pm

    no great women artists? there have been several although often overshadowed by their male counterparts….maybe a novel including Mary Cassat…she went to France to become an artist. her family was not pleased….that’s just a starter…

  16. Bill Sisson on March 8, 2017 at 10:06 pm

    All these years of reading your books and having so many favorites, I find myself drawn back most often to the ones that brought a place to life: The Game (you made me finally read Kipling); Empty Rooms for the vivid portrait of San Francisco during and after the great fire; O Jerusalem because it’s so perfect; The Bones of Paris, because I’m only slightly obsessed with the American expatriate community of the ’20s and ’30s. However, the one I re-read the most is The Art of Detection. Partly because I was able to meet Kate and Lee and Al again, but also for the extensive setting in and description of the Marin Headlands, the history of the gun emplacements and the history; the Holmes tie-in doesn’t hurt, nor does the alternation between Russell’s time and Martinelli’s. That book, and O Jerusalem, my two favorites, are both masterpieces of the writer’s art. I look forward to Lockdown Thank you!

    • Laurie King on March 8, 2017 at 10:13 pm

      Thanks–I love how readers are willing to follow me down unexpected pathways!

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