King, Laurie R. (1995). To Play the Fool. St. Martin’s Press; New York.
If you’re someone who is particular about starting a murder mystery series with the first book, do not start reading about Kate Martinelli in To Play the Fool. Instead, start with A Grave Talent and proceed from there. The story and characters will make a lot more sense if you do.
Personally, I’m not too fussy about jumping into a series part way and reached for this book on the library shelves just because I’m a big fan of Laurie R. King’s other works. I absolutely adored the Mary Russell series of historical mysteries, which featured Sherlock Holmes as Mary’s mentor and later partner (Wikipedia article). I find the female leads in Laurie’s books to be incredibly strong and intelligent, while the plot is tense, the characters complex, and the content extremely well-written.
To Play the Fool was as wonderful to read as I’d envisioned and hoped. The tale centers around a murdered homeless man and Kate’s investigation of the potential culprit – a very mysterious and also homeless man nicknamed Brother Erasmus (Wikipedia article). Brother Erasmus’ complex personal history is slowly revealed as Kate follows him through the streets, where he speaks only in the words of the Bible and Shakespeare (Laurie R. King, 2014).
As a reader, I really enjoyed the historical and theological elements of this novel. As Laurie describes in her January 2010 post reflecting on the novel:
“Of course, the Fool is a product of the feudal system. He (usually he) exists to guarantee that an absolute ruler has at least one person offering criticism. The Fool’s job is to remind the king that he is not God. […] However, if the Fool’s task of pointing out the tarnish on the crown depends on the presence of a crown, what does he do when all the world is crowned? Who plays the fool in a society of kings, when none of us have absolute power? That is the question around which I shaped Brother Erasmus” (Laurie R. King, January 2010).
This fascinating background, in tandem with some exciting character development, make this novel a must-read. Highly recommended!