I really enjoyed Touchstone. It follows an American FBI agent who is looking for a suspected anarchist bomber in post-WWI Britain. The other main characters include a British agent with his own agenda, a man with unique abilities to sense things about people (the “touchstone”) and his sister, a young British heiress, and a young man who is an up-and-coming socialist/anarchist leader. The thing I found particularly engaging was the way in which none of the characters (other than the FBI agent, who was a first-person narrator) could quite be trusted. The main character, and therefore the reader, could not know for sure what the underlying agenda was of any character. The twists and turns of the plot were well executed and the ending was surprising but fitting. I was thoroughly drawn into the story and when it ended I was still in that world for a couple days. So much so that I soon read another book by Laurie R. King, the second in her Sherlock Holmes series (A Monstrous Regiment of Women).
I was hoping for a similar level of engagement with The Little Stranger. It takes place in post-WWII Britain and is narrated by a small-town doctor. He becomes involved with an aristocratic family living on their nearby estate. The estate is in sad shape monetarily and the house has not been well kept. At first all seems normal but gradually we see that the house is potentially haunted and it is affecting the family members. For the first couple hundred pages I was drawn into the story and eager to find out what happened next; at this point I would have given it a high rating. However, as the book progressed I gradually lost my engagement with it, and when I got within the last hundred pages I hardly wanted to finish it. The story was basically just depressing at this point; things just kept going downhill. I glanced ahead and saw enough to know that it was going to get even worse, but I did in fact finish the book, as I didn’t want to leave it unfinished that close to the end. In addition to the plot being depressing, I lost some sympathy for the narrator when he acted in ways that I thought were blind and foolish. Although the ambiguity of the “haunted house” theme was pulled off quite well, including at the end of the book, I simply did not enjoy the ending and did not find the tidiness of the plot sufficient to redeem the ultimately sad and depressing story. Therefore I cannot give this book a good recommendation, although others with different tastes from me may enjoy it.