I was steered to Night Work–or actually its author–by a remark I read in Jon Carroll’s column in the San Francisco Chronicle. He spoke as if Laurie R. King were a household word in the mystery world, yet I’d never heard of her. Judging by the number of awards she’s won, the fault is mine. I’m glad to make her acquaintance. I speculate that one of the elements of her and her work that first got Mr. Carroll interested is that the major players in the life of Kate Martinelli, Night Work’s chief detective, are gay and lesbian. There’s a certain amount of that kind of thing going on in my family, I’m proud to say, and I know of kindred circumstances in Mr. Carroll’s family. All of w hich may seem like an aside, except that I believe it is germane to the novel’s flaws and virtues. First the flaws. King engages in a great deal of polemic and is guilty of showing off her scholarship to the detriment of the book’s pace. There’s a lot of exploration of the relationship between Yaweh and earlier goddesses, principally the Indian Kali and the Mesopotamian Ishtar. There’s an exhaustive description of a dance drama drawn from the Song Of Solomon. All well and good, since the plot concerns (believably) women in vigilante action against abusive men. But the point gets made. And made. And made again. She would have been better off to let the research sit and stick more closely to the story’s through line. And the virtues. Kate Martinelli is a savvy San Francisco police detective totally absorbed in her work, totally in love with her partner, totally true to the law even when it endangers her friends and lovers. King gives her an admirable partner, a family man who both endures and supports her unorthodox methods. It’s worth noting that each of the central characters is or has been wounded in some way. Martinelli’s partner, Lee, by a bullet (in an earlier work, I gather); her close friend, Roz’s, partner by an abusive man; her partner’s stepdaughter by a kidnapping; Kate herself by a lead pipe, an injury that still gives her headaches. Even Roz, the powerful media manipulator priest, ends this book deeply burned. Each of these characters fights her injury in her own way, ways not always admirable or just. And this aspect of the book deepens the reader’s experience and carries it beyond the realm of pure crime fiction. The relevance to my family and Mr. Carroll’s? We don’t spend a lot of time talking about gayness. We talk about love and the difficulties of life, and sometimes we get involved in matters like prop. 8. But mostly we get talk about children and jobs and the economy and all the rest. We don’t run around sermonizing. It just doesn’t enhance relationships much. And Ms. King’s preaching doesn’t enhance her relationship with me much. Although I’d wish for less preaching about man’s inhumanity to women, I credit King with balancing things out where it matters–in the action. The most horrible crime in the series of killings in Night Work is committed by a man against a woman. A girl, really. However, the vigilante killings almost allow him to get away with it. And righteous and justified as the murders sometimes seem at the moment, they are in the end self-defeating and even lead to crimes against other women. As I write, the whole work seems more complex than it did when I began, and my admiration for Ms. King has grown over the last half hour. I admit to skipping big hunks of the narrative for reasons I’ve already outlined. However, the 90% of the book I read closely paid big dividends. And I have a new author to admire now.