To Play the Fool

To Play the FoolBuy the Book:
Bookshop Santa Cruz
Barnes & Noble
Amazon UK

Series: Kate Martinelli #2
Published by: Picador
Release Date: 1995
Pages: 272


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.


“Among the shrubbery sleepers in Golden Gate Park lives a man who calls himself Brother Erasmus. He carries only a staff, dresses in rags and speaks only the words of the Bible and Shakespeare. Erasmus ministers to the homeless and preaches to Berkeley seminarians, who see him as a modern St. Francis. He is also wanted for murder. From this risky material…Laurie R. King has crafted To Play the Fool, a thoughtful and compelling character study with a crime at its core.”
San Jose Mercury News

“King’s calculated disdain for the received conventions of the detective story, though, only confirms her status as one of the most original talents to emerge in the ‘90s.”


Read Laurie’s thoughts on writing To Play the Fool on her blog Mutterings.

And Laurie’s seminary, where Erasmus has been known to preach

Holy fools are, as one might expect, widespread and varied:
St. Francis, God’s fool
St. Simeon, holy fool
The Russian tradition of holy foolishness

Isn’t there something delightfully ironic about a PhD thesis on foolishness?

And what about Laurie’s BA thesis on The Holy Fool, available here?

For a view of the area around Fisherman’s Wharf

Click here to view the photo gallery on Pinterest.


“You’ve arrested a Fool for murder?” the English voice said incredulously.

“He is not under arrest. At most he’s a weak suspect. However, he’s a problem to us because it’s very difficult to understand what he’s doing here. The interviews we’ve held have been—unsatisfactory.”

The deep voice chuckled. “I can imagine. He answers your questions, but his answers are, shall we say ambiguous. Even enigmatic.”

“Thank God,” Kate burst out. “You do understand.”

“I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, but I may be able to throw a bit of light into your darkness. When may I meet this fool of yours?”

“You want to meet him?”

“My dear young woman, would you ask a paleontologist if she would care to meet a dinosaur? Of course I want to meet him. Is he in jail?”

Read the full excerpt