cover of Folly: A Novel



Suspense favorite: dark and true to island life

Folly: a novel © 2001 Laurie R. King

© 2007 Beth Helstien

This column reviewing books set in or about the San Juan Islands or by local authors is giving me the chance to reread some favorites. Actually, I re-listened to Folly, narrated by Frank Muller, which is on cassette and CD and is owned by the San Juan Island Library.

Folly is set on a fictional San Juan archipelago island just outside Roche Harbor. During the heyday of the Roche Harbor Lime and Cement Company, the protagonist’s uncle had built cabin on his “Sanctuary Island” with two stone towers made of beach rocks.

Now, two generations later, Rae, a 52-year-old grandmother, sets herself the task of restoring the house, long ago ravaged by fire, upon the solid stone foundation she has inherited.

Building the house alone is a symbolic enterprise for her. What she is really after is to re-build her life, following the fatal car accident that killed her husband and younger daughter and left her seriously injured as well.

For Rae, the process of house building is a way to chase away the demons that still haunt her after the accident and the loss of her loved ones, demons that only recently drove her to an involuntary commitment to a mental hospital and a serious suicide attempt.

She meets and befriends some true-to-life characters, who exhibit the friendly neighborliness of the San Juans.  With her own independent spirit, she is somewhat challenged by the overly curious, helpful interest the locals take in her as she sets out to heal herself in solitude.

The story is told through flashbacks to before the accident, interspersed with narration from the present time. Excerpts from her uncle’s journal are interwoven with her own diary entries and letters.

From the first, there is a sinister voice whining in the background, but whose voice it is and what result is sought felt immaterial to me. The story is about Rae’s climb out of madness and the healing that a) building and/or b) the San Juans offer a damaged soul. But for folks who love mystery and suspense, the book is that as well.

After all, Laurie R. King has won both the Edgar and the Creasey Awards and is known for her two mystery series: Kate Martinelli, the tough lesbian cop from San Francisco, and Mary Russell—the young wife of Sherlock Holmes—who solves mysteries set in the 1920s.

Folly is utterly satisfying either as suspense or as an uplifting tale of the human spirit overcoming heartbreak, fear and pain. I think the author caught the spirit of living in the islands as well.

I hope you will love Folly as much as I do. And I would love to hear your thoughts on the best books about the San Juans.  The great frustration of voracious readers is also our blessing: so many books from which to choose!

Folly, like all books reviewed here, may be found at the San Juan Island Library.

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