Book Brahmin: Laurie R. King

photo: Chris Schmauch, GoodEye Photography

Laurie R. King is the author of five contemporary novels featuring Kate Martinelli; the Stuyvesant & Grey novels Touchstone and The Bones of Paris; several stand-alone novels; and 13 Mary Russell mysteries, including Dreaming Spies (Bantam Books, February 17, 2015). She lives in Northern California.

On your nightstand now:

Because I'm dipping into the Victorian era for the next book, I'm renewing my acquaintance with Mr. Charles Dickens, in this case, Great Expectations, a book that I forever connect with the white athletic socks my clumsy and earnest young English teacher wore as he perched on his desk reading aloud to 30 squirming teenagers. Also on my table is the second Silk Road novel by my friend Dana Stabenow, By the Shores of the Middle Sea: a kick-ass young woman crossing Asia to get to Marco Polo's Venice. Then, since a crime writer needs a break, Jack McDevitt's Echo, satisfyingly traditional sci-fi, though not without a detective-story element. Two others (it's a teetering pile) are Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, since we've been rereading it for the LRK Virtual Book Club, and Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which somehow I've managed to miss until now.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Walter Farley's The Black Stallion, hands down. I lived that book--no, really, when I was a kid I spent all my spare hours shaping an imaginary island atop a bedroom storage unit, peopling it with crude human and equine characters shaped out of Plasticine clay. (A generation later, I'd have been dragged off to spend those spare hours with a child psychiatrist.)

Your top five authors:

Pat Barker, Peter Dickinson, Reginald Hill, Penelope Lively, Jan Morris, Dorothy L. Sayers, Josephine Tey--wait, you were serious about stopping at five?

Book you've faked reading:

I can't think of one I've actually lied about, although I think all writers practice the occasional polite inaccuracy to fellow panel members or writer friends about whether we've actually finished something.

Book you're an evangelist for:

I read Lyndsay Faye's The Gods of Gotham in manuscript, and for three years now I've been shoving it into peoples' hands. There may be one or two books that I personally adore just the tiniest smidge more, but this novel is perfect for all kinds of readers with all manners of tastes.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Probably a lot of them, truth be told. I'm a sucker for a pretty face--or not necessarily pretty, but striking. After all, when a publishing house's art department gets a book, it's often because it's a strong one.

Book that changed your life:

Wow, there's a question, although the answer might have more to do with my life at the time than the book itself. In which case, I'd have to name Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers: not a perfect novel by any means, but one that awoke me to how a crime story could have substance, intellect and humor, and be both rousing plot and subtle character study.

Favorite line from a book:

"It was one of the quietest and peacefullest dogs I have ever seen." --from Jerome K. Jerome's classic gem of English ridiculousness, Three Men in a Boat.

(If you'd like the context, the men have just settled down with cups of tea made from river water when they "saw, coming down towards us on the sluggish current, a dog. It was one of the quietest and peacefullest dogs I have ever seen. I never met a dog who seemed more contented--more easy in its mind. It was floating dreamily on its back, with its four legs stuck up straight into the air. It was what I should call a full-bodied dog, with a well-developed chest. On he came, serene, dignified, and calm, until he was abreast of our boat.")

Which character you most relate to:

"Bending to adjust the claw of her crowbar against a joist, Lydia saw the man's feet.... She didn't turn round because it amuses most men to see a woman struggling with a man's work, and consequently it amused Lydia to startle them. She heaved firmly on the crowbar...." Those are the opening lines of The Lively Dead by Peter Dickinson, one of the few men who writes the kind of women I know.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Because I have a lousy memory for plots, I can often reread crime books afresh. But one book I'd love to come across for the first time now, when I've fought nearly two dozen novels of my own to standstills, would be T.H. White's The Sword in the Stone. Actually, come to think of it, it might be better not to, lest its gentle humane perfection make me give up in despair.

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