Hailed for her rich and powerful works of psychological suspense as well as her New York Times bestselling mysteries, Laurie R. King now takes us to a remote cottage in Cornwall where a gripping tale of intrigue, terrorism, and explosive passions begins with a visit to a recluse upon whom the fate of an entire nation may rest--a man code-named . . .
It's eight years after the Great War shattered Bennett Grey's life, leaving him with an excruciating sensitivity to the potential of human violence, and making social contact all but impossible. Once studied by British intelligence for his unique abilities, Grey has withdrawn from a rapidly changing world--until an American Bureau of Investigation agent comes to investigate for himself Grey's potential as a weapon in a vicious new kind of warfare. Agent Harris Stuyvesant desperately needs Grey's help entering a world where the rich and the radical exist side by side--a heady mix of the powerful and the celebrated, among whom lurks an enemy ready to strike a deadly blow at democracy on both sides of the Atlantic.
Here, among a titled family whose servants dress in whimsical costumes and whose daughter conducts an open affair with a man who wants to bring down the government, Stuyvesant finds himself dangerously seduced by one woman and--even more dangerously--falling in love with another. And as he sifts through secrets divulged and kept, he uncovers the target of a horrifying conspiracy, and wonders if he can trust his touchstone, Grey, to reveal the most dangerous player of all ....
Building to an astounding climax on an ancient English estate, Touchstone is both a harrowing thriller by a master of the genre and a thought-provoking exploration of the forces that drive history--and human destinies.
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December 25, 2007
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Excerpt from Touchstone by Laurie R. King
Eight days after stepping off the Spirit of New Orleans from New York, Harris Stuyvesant nearly killed a man.
The fact of the near-homicide did not surprise him; that it had taken him eight days to get there, considering the circumstances, was downright astonishing.
Fortunately, his arm drew back from full force at the last instant, so he didn't actually smash the guy's face in. But as he stood over the prostrate figure, watching the woozy eyelids flicker back towards consciousness, the tingle of frustration in his right arm told him what a near thing it had been. He'd been running on rage for so long, driven by fury and failure and the scars on Tim's skull and the vivid memory of bright new blood on a sparkling glass carpet followed by flat black and the sound of the funeral dirges that-well, the guy had got off lucky, that was all.
He couldn't even claim it was self defense. The cops were right there-constables, he should call them, this being England-and they'd already been moving to intercept the red-faced Miners' Union demonstrator who was hammering one meaty forefinger against Stuyvesant's chest to make a point when Stuyvesant's arm came up all on its own and just laid the man out on the paving stones.
A uniformed constable cut Stuyvesant away from the miner's friends as neatly as a sheepdog with a flock and suggested in no uncertain terms that now would be a good time for him to go about his business, sir. Stuyvesant looked into the clean-shaven English face beneath the helmet and felt his fist tighten, but he caught hold of himself before things got out of control.
He nodded to the cop, glanced at the knot of demonstrators forming around the fallen warrior, and bent to pick up the envelope he'd dropped in the scuffle. He turned on his heels and within sixty seconds and two corners found silence, as abrupt and unexpected as the sudden appearance of the Union workers had been five minutes earlier.
He put his back against the dirty London bricks, closed his eyes, and drew in, then let out, one prolonged breath. After a minute, he raised his hand to study the damage: a fresh slice across the already-scarred knuckle, bleeding freely. With his left hand he fished out his handkerchief and wrapped the hand, looking around until he spotted a promising doorway down the street. Inside was a saloon bar. "Whisky," he told the man behind the bar. "Double."
When the glass hit the bar, he dribbled half of it onto the cut-teeth were dirty things-and tossed the rest down his throat. He started to order a repeat, then remembered, and looked at his wrist-watch with an oath.
Oh, what the hell did it matter? He'd spent the last week chewing the ears of one office-worker after another; what made him think this one would be any different?
But that was just an excuse to stay here and drink.
Stuyvesant slapped some coins on the bar and went out onto the street. It was raining, again. He settled his hat, pulled up his collar, and hurried away.
It had proven a piss-poor time to come to London and talk to men behind desks. He'd known before he left New York that there was a General Strike scheduled at the end of the month, in sympathy for the coal miners. However, this was England, not the States, and he'd figured there would be a lot of big talk followed by a disgruntled, probably last-minute settlement. Instead, the working classes were rumbling, and their talk had gone past coal mining into a confrontation with the ruling class. The polite, Olde Worlde tea-party dispute he'd envisioned, cake-on-a-plate compared to some of the rib-cracking, skull-smashing strikes Stuyvesant had been in, didn't look as if it was going to turn out the way he'd thought, either-not if men like those demonstrators had their way in the matter.
And God, the distraction it had caused in this town! One after another, the desk-bound men he'd come to see had listened to his questions, then given him the same response: Does this have anything to do with the Strike? Then please, I'm busy, there's the door.
Yeah, that miner had been damned lucky, considering.
Maybe when this next one showed him the door-Carstairs was his name, Aldous Carstairs, what kind of pansy handle was that?-maybe that would be where his temper broke. Maybe the bureaucrat would get what the demonstrator hadn't.
He couldn't help feeling he had reached the bottom of the barrel when it came to a straightforward investigation. Certainly, he held out little hope that Carstairs would do more than go through motions-he'd heard of the man more or less by accident the previous afternoon, sitting across the desk from a Scotland Yard official he'd met in New York years before. Now an exhausted and harassed-looking official in a day-old shirt who, even before the inevitable tea tray arrived, was sorry he'd let Stuyvesant in.