cover image A Grave Talent

A Grave Talent

Laurie R. King. Minotaur Books, $19.95 (310pp) ISBN 978-0-312-08804-0

Although it gets off to an uncertain start, this first mystery boasts an appealing female detective and a few good shocks delivered close to the end. Three children's bodies are found near a reclusive community of eccentrics not too many miles from San Francisco. Young cop Casey Martinelli and her embittered, tyrannical partner Alonzo Hawkins think they've identified the perfect suspect in Vaun Adams, the community's resident artist, who once was convicted of murdering a child and who is secretive even by the standards of her weird neighbors. Adams is a strong, enigmatic creation: haunted, gothic and broadly dysfunctional, with a dark past that may contain the lurking killer. But the plot exhibits cracks--a tenuous piece of deduction conveniently dictates that the murder suspects can come only from the community--and King stumbles several times in developing her detectives' characters. She is coy about revealing the gender of Casey's lover (most readers will spot the ``surprise'' a mile off), and she lets Hawkins' initially gruff manner dissipate within a dozen pages. If King plans a series, she will need to flesh out her protagonists. ( Feb .)