Kinsey Millhone’s twentieth mystery unfolds in the house next door: Gus Vronsky, a curmudgeonly, elderly neighbor, has injured himself and is in needKinsey Millhone’s twentieth mystery unfolds in the house next door: Gus Vronsky, a curmudgeonly, elderly neighbor, has injured himself and is in need of care. Since his only living relative is a niece on the East Coast, a nurse is hired to help Gus through his recovery at home. Kinsey is asked to do a quick background check on Solana, the new nurse, giving Gus’s niece the all-clear. Before long, Gus’s condition seems to worsen, and there is something strangely possessive about the way Solana treats him, as if simply asking about Gus or paying him an encouraging visit were an affront to her ability or professionalism.
Kinsey becomes convinced that Solana is up to something, but she doesn’t know what it is and can’t convince any of the interested parties (except her landlord Henry, of course). The reader knows, however, because for the second consecutive novel in the series, Sue Grafton employs intercalary chapters, told from Solana’s point of view, to provide background, motivation, and details about what Solana’s doing. The author gives the reader the answer to the mystery while the reader observes Kinsey’s attempts to figure out. It’s a different way to unwind a whodunnit, one that would seem to take some of the suspense out of the reading. But Kinsey is given enough action to keep it interesting, and as we root for Kinsey to succeed, we also root for Solana to stumble, and Gus, an otherwise unpleasant fellow, is turned into an object of the reader’s compassion.
As stories go, T is for Trespass is merely pretty good, but where most of the Kinsey mysteries focus on character development and on Kinsey’s problem-solving talents, this one is framed as a failure. Additionally, the author provides a prologue, in which the main character expounds for one short paragraph on how she has spent her professional career “trying to separate the wicked from that which profits them.” The setup seems to hint at a message the author has about evil, and Kinsey’s nemesis, a truly evil character passing herself off as an angel of mercy, is first characterized as being able to go through life with no real emotional attachment to anyone. The message seems to be that the people we need to be most wary of are not the ambitious, the unscrupulous, or the greedy, but those who are incapable of sympathy.
Not the most compelling in the series, this installment at least gives us more Henry than we’ve had in a long time, and that’s always a good thing. As we creep closer to the end of the alphabet, our precious time with these characters is running out, and I savor these remaining moments....more
It’s been thirty-five years since Violet Sullivan, a California housewife, disappeared. Residents of her small agricultural town of Santa Maria have dIt’s been thirty-five years since Violet Sullivan, a California housewife, disappeared. Residents of her small agricultural town of Santa Maria have different theories about what happened: some believe her abusive husband finally did her in, while others believe she picked up and left with one of her many lovers. None of the speculation has been of help to Daisy, Violet’s now-middle-aged daughter whose personal life has been tumultuous largely as a result of her mother’s disappearance. She hires Kinsey Millhone to find out what she can, for Daisy’s own closure if for nothing else.
It happens that Violet was the kind of person everyone knew and everyone has an opinion about, and nobody seems reluctant to share opinions or memories with Kinsey. It has been thirty-five years, and while everyone has already repeated his or her version of the story to the local press multiple times, Kinsey hopes that a more rigorous questioning might shake loose a long-overlooked detail. She is warned by a police friend that if Violet was in fact murdered, the perpetrator has gotten away with it for a very long time and will not be pleased by any progress Kinsey might make. When Kinsey discovers the tires of her Volkswagen slashed one day, she takes it as an encouragement that she’s getting close to something.
This has been an interesting stretch of the alphabet for fans of Sue Grafton. This is the third time in recent memory that Kinsey has worked on a long-unsolved mystery, and the third where much of the action takes place outside Kinsey’s hometown of Santa Teresa. In one recent novel, Kinsey doesn’t end the novel with her recap. In another, Kinsey doesn’t even work on a mystery, but is sort of swept along in someone else’s pursuit of solving a problem. In S is for Silence, Grafton makes use for the first time of intercalary chapters, written in the third person (as opposed to her usual first-person Kinsey narration) from different characters’ points of view, and set in the time of Violet’s disappearance. The effect for the reader is more knowledge about what happened than Kinsey has, and an opportunity to form better-informed theories than Kinsey can form until she has a chance to uncover the information the reader is already privy to.
It’s an interesting approach, and Grafton uses it well, giving the reader a more intimate look at the events without giving away too much. In fact, I’m pretty sure that when Kinsey tells us what her conclusions are, she doesn’t tell us how she arrived at them, and we are left to go back to the intercalary material and figure it out ourselves. This is kind of a cool approach, like looking at the back of the math book for the answer to the problem but then tying to figure out how you’re supposed to get there.
S is for Silence is a great read; while I wouldn’t put it up there with the best of the series, it’s at least at the upper end of the middle of the pack, which for this devotee is pretty dang good....more
I haven't read any reviews of R is for Ricochet yet, but I predict this installment in Sue Grafton's series will be as polarizing as P is for Peril waI haven't read any reviews of R is for Ricochet yet, but I predict this installment in Sue Grafton's series will be as polarizing as P is for Peril was. Five chapters in, I recognized that Grafton was going a different route with this one when I still didn't know what the mystery was. When that remained the case twenty chapters in, I settled in and agreed with the author to go along for the ride, whatever that ride was going to be.
Kinsey Millhone is hired by a wealthy, aging developer to escort Reba, his incarcerated daughter, from prison to her parole officer and the rest of the way home, helping also in the following days to keep Reba company (read: out of trouble) as she gets settled again into regular society. Now that she's out of prison, the ex-boyfriend from whom she was caught embezzling seems eager to reestablish relations with her, while, unbeknownst to him, certain government agencies are interested in recruiting her help in nailing a big-time money-launderer.
Reba seems perfectly incapable of playing along with any game established by someone else's rules, so Kinsey finds herself swept along as Reba jukes and jives her way through plans made by her father, her ex-boyfriend, the conditions of her parole, the government agencies, and her own resolve to stay out of trouble. Although Kinsey is involved in Reba's machinations, she has very little agency herself, and we the readers are carried along in Kinsey's wake just as Kinsey seems to be swept along in Reba's.
What this all means is that instead of Kinsey's usual independent action, the narrative is mostly about her dependent reaction, a storytelling strategy that would never have held fans' interest through eighteen serial installments if it had been employed from the beginning.
However, it works here because whodunnit plots are not all the novel or series have going for them. Grafton takes more time in R is for Ricochet to develop other areas of Kinsey's life than she has since nearer the beginning of the alphabet. Kinsey's love life takes on a new direction, and she finds herself caught up in her landlord Henry's romantic life as well. There is also more interaction with Rosie, the owner of the bar Kinsey frequents, than we've had in some time.
For better or worse (I say better), Grafton has allowed Kinsey (and readers, by extension) to develop important, interesting relationships with a small number of people around her, and rabid fans will likely appreciate this development. The more casual reader might not be as pleased, and I'd hate for anyone to pick this novel up as his or her first experience with the series. When this is all over, I doubt anyone will make anyone's best-of-Kinsey list, but it's a pretty fun ride for a seventeenth sequel, and I enjoyed it....more
It would appear that Ranger is in trouble. Stephanie Plum's colleague, mentor, and possible future lover is the only suspect in the murder of a memberIt would appear that Ranger is in trouble. Stephanie Plum's colleague, mentor, and possible future lover is the only suspect in the murder of a member of a New Jersey crime family. Now that he's missed a court date, our bounty hunter heroine needs to bring him in. Sought by the police, a bond agency, a crime family, and a drug lord, Ranger's a hot target, and because Stephanie seems to be the only person he gets in touch with, Stephanie's being watched too.
Add the usual assortment of strange characters: a former classmate who deals blue jeans and Metamucil, a big dog who eats furniture, and a Grandmother who insists that moving in with Stephanie is only temporary, and you've got a real Stephanie Plum novel.
I took a break after the first five books because Evanovich drives me crazy with stuff that just doesn't work for me in a mystery series, but I can't deny that she comes up with some pretty darn good stories, and no writer I've kept extended time with in these past few years has made me laugh aloud as often as she has. It's not just the silly characters, which I could really use fewer of, but it's a rather deft sense of timing and a refusal to let Stephanie take herself too seriously. It's a delicate balance for the writer, to convey the very real danger her main character is frequently in the midst of and to keep in the reader's mind the absurdity of Stephanie's situations.
Evanovich makes it work, and gratuitous (yes, gratuitous) sex aside, this series is too much fun to give up on. Count me in for the duration....more
In Q is for Quarry, the seventeenth Kinsey Millhone mystery, Sue Grafton again moves most of the action away from Santa Theresa, this time (mostly) inIn Q is for Quarry, the seventeenth Kinsey Millhone mystery, Sue Grafton again moves most of the action away from Santa Theresa, this time (mostly) into a nearby Arizona town where she and Santa Theresa Police lieutenant Con Dolan work on identifying a murder victim from 1969, fifteen years (or so) past. Kinsey, Con, and Stacey Oliphant from the Sheriff's department hope that by identifying the victim, they will also figure out who committed the murder. They acquaint themselves with the usual assortment of sleazy criminals and regular, small-town people as they chase down the flimsiest of leads, hoping that the years have uncovered details that may have been overlooked in the immediate aftermath of the crime.
The way I've summarized it, it sounds like a standard mystery story, and as far as plots go, I suppose it is. Grafton populates it with interesting characters, though, some of them rather likable, so reading about them as the story progresses is quite a pleasure. Kinsey's used to working alone, and throwing in with recurring character Con Dolan adds a nice dynamic. There are some new developments in the unfolding story of Kinsey's recently discovered family, and not only does Kinsey learn a few new things about her past, but she begins to settle into a workable (and fun to read about) relationship with one of her cousins. As the series approaches its end, I imagine it is this aspect of our main character's growth that will become the most intriguing. It's nice to see Grafton moving things along in that area.
If you've never read a Kinsey Millhone novel, I wouldn't recommend this one for starters, but you could do a lot worse. If you're stuck somewhere in the middle of the alphabet so far and just can't bring yourself to slog through J, K, and L, I certainly can't blame you, but if you skip ahead to M, it's a pretty good ride at least through Q. My advice, of course, is to make yourself get through whatever doldrums you're in, alphabet-wise, and power through. These last five have been a joy to read.
PS: Kinsey's diet doesn't usually cause me to get the munchies, but you're going to crave a spicy salami sandwich on a Kaiser roll with melted pepper-jack and a fried egg after just a few pages. I haven't been able to think of anything else since....more
Of the first five novels in the Stephanie Plum series, this has the best setup, the best first chapter. The bounty hunter business is slow, so StephanOf the first five novels in the Stephanie Plum series, this has the best setup, the best first chapter. The bounty hunter business is slow, so Stephanie is forced to take a lower-paying bounty: a grouchy, uncooperative, three-foot-tall Little Person. On the day she accepts the assignment, she is summoned by her family to find an elderly uncle who seems to have wandered off, leaving a parked car in a grocery-store lot and some troubling photos in an envelope on his desk.
Her primary love interest, Joe Morelli, seems to be spending time with the woman who was his high-school girlfriend. An emerging interest in (and by) Ranger seems fueled by Stephanie's needing to take jobs from Ranger outside the bounty-hunter business, possibly jobs that inhabit Stephanie's ethical grey area.
The plot is interesting, the best since the first book. Author Janet Evanovich plays a little bit loose with one of the cardinal rules of mystery stories, but she corrects it before it's too late to redeem herself as a writer. Stephanie's interactions with a few new characters are fun, and the different plot elements are all (except one!) engaging enough to keep the pages turning. My biggest gripe with these novels so far is too much sex; without giving anything away, I'll say that this gripe was mostly assuaged in this fifth installment.
However. Evanovich seems sure that the Plum-Morelli-Ranger love triangle is compelling. Perhaps I am alone in thinking that it's not, but it really isn't. It's maddening, in fact, the way the writer tries to milk this plot element for all it's worth. She even concludes the novel with a kind of romantic cliffhanger, something I wouldn't mind in a romance series, but since this is a mystery series, it leaves me feeling annoyed enough that I am going to take a little break from this series while I catch up on Newbery winners.
If you've read the first four novels and are wondering whether to attempt this fifth, I say yes. It's an improvement on the previous two or three stories, and a fun, quick read....more
Stephanie Plum (this time driving a Honda CRX) is after another bail-skipper. This one's leaving puzzles for an ex-lover while apparently planning toStephanie Plum (this time driving a Honda CRX) is after another bail-skipper. This one's leaving puzzles for an ex-lover while apparently planning to disappear for a long time. With the help of an enormous cross-dressing rock-and-roll guitar-player and the support of her ex-prostitute friend, she tries to track down the always-just-out-of-reach bounty before whoever's trying to blow her up is successful.
The stuff I dislike about Janet Evanovich's writing is getting worse, and stuff I like is getting better. I find this maddening. I think I'm going to read the fifth book in the series and take a break with something else.
I really don't need the detailed descriptions of Stephanie's sexual encounters. It's not that I'm a prude; it's that I don't think they add anything to the narrative, plot, or even character. There's a reason I don't read romance novels, and this is it. If I understand correctly, in romance novels (which Evanovich used to write under a different pseudonym), sex isn't just an ingredient; it's almost the reason for the narrative. When titillation becomes the reason for the prose, what you have isn't far removed from pornography. And while everything has its time and place, my mystery reading is really neither the time nor place for porn.
Granted, in Four to Score, it's really only one extended scene, and I guess I could skip over such scenes. The problem is that this is a mystery novel. If you're engaged with the main character in solving her mystery, you can't skip anything.
It would be enough to make me give up if I didn't find Stephanie an otherwise interesting, fun, likeable character. But I do, and I enjoy getting to know her and her colorful friends. In this novel we're introduced to Sally, the cross-dressing musician with a gift for solving puzzles. Add to Sally the already-established assortment, and Stephanie's world really is fun to inhabit. Ranger is especially enjoyable, making only a few appearances but managing to be even more badass than usual.
Evanovich gets carried away with her whimsical style, but it serves her well more often than not, and I laughed aloud a couple of times, something I don't do much even with my favorite mystery writers.
My only plot-related gripe is that Evanovich resolves this thing much too quickly. She's got the makings here of a really interesting plot; however, too many of the reveals come at the end, so that anyone trying to figure things out isn't really given enough time to do so. This is too bad. Among her first four plots, this was the most intricate and interesting, and if it had been mapped out differently, it could have been extremely rewarding for the reader. As it is, it's merely pretty good....more
In my review of One for the Money, I wrote, "Janet Evanovich keeps the tone sexy without getting sexual." In my review of Two for the Dough, I wrote,In my review of One for the Money, I wrote, "Janet Evanovich keeps the tone sexy without getting sexual." In my review of Two for the Dough, I wrote, "As a reader who dislikes lengthy descriptions of sexual activity in the middle of a good mystery, I admit my own tolerance was taken nearly to its limit. Here's hoping this doesn't become a trend. I like my sexy bounty hunters to keep it PG-13."
With Three to Get Deadly, it's safe to say that we've crossed over into rated-R territory. It's not as if I couldn't see it coming: Janet Evanovich once wrote romances (under a pen-name), and the ability to write sex scenes is a key to success in that genre. For what it is, the sex sequence is pretty good: I have to concede that I rather enjoyed it. However, I don't see what it adds to the narrative for anyone but those who just want to see Stephanie Plum and Joe Morelli get it on. The writer's development of this facet of the character's life seems gratuitous and makes me less eager to finish the series.
As a continuation of the Stephanie Plum story, Three to Get Deadly is in most other ways a worthy installment. As I have written in a thousand other reviews, the supporting characters make an enormous difference; in this novel we get less family, less Eddie, and less Morelli. We get a LOT more Lula and Ranger, who help Stephanie track down a beloved ice-cream-store owner, Uncle Mo, who has skipped bail on a small concealed-weapons charge but who may be involved in something horrible. Based on what I've heard others say about the series, I'm guessing that Ranger later becomes something of a love interest, a development I will disapprove of if it comes to fruition. I like Ranger as the cool Batman-like superhero, but we can already see the Bruce Wayne-ness coming out of him here and there.
One amusing personality quirk (and character-development device) I have not seen in others' reviews is Stephanie's ever-changing car situation. Is it because I'm a guy that I appreciate this? And is it because her target audience seems mostly to be women that others haven't mentioned it? Stephanie's inability to find the car that's right for her is a nice touch, something I'm hoping the author can keep finding ways to maintain at least for a few more novels; it adds a kind of charm to the main character, something that her sexual mishaps really do not.
All this is to say that I enjoyed this novel, with its likable main character and interesting plot, but if trends continue the way I think they're going, I may not make it to the end of this series, I am sad to predict....more
In this second Stephanie Plum novel, the lingerie-buyer-turned-bounty-hunter is forced by practical and accidental reasons to work with Joe Morelli, hIn this second Stephanie Plum novel, the lingerie-buyer-turned-bounty-hunter is forced by practical and accidental reasons to work with Joe Morelli, her former lover and current pain in the neck. They are both on the trail of Kenny Mancuso: Stephanie needs the access and info Morelli (he of the Trenton Police Department's vice squad) can provide, while Morelli is counting on Stephanie's knack for accidentally bumping into her targets.
The hunt for the first-time offender turns out to be trickier than expected, and in addition to a deeper involvement with a local rat-like undertaker than Stephanie can stomach, there is the unexpected involvement of her grandmother in this case.
Janet Evanovich's development of Stephanie Plum's character centers around two elements here: first, the increasing presence of Joe Morelli in her life; and second, the particular characteristics of Trenton, New Jersey, where the novels are set--especially the Trenton neighborhood known as the burg, where Stephanie and Morelli both grew up.
The sexual tension between Morelli and Stephanie seems to drive much of the plot. Even when Stephanie's not talking about it in her first-person narrative, the reader is constantly aware of it. It's mostly a fun device, moving many parts of the plot forward while giving us insight into the Plum character. How long this could be sustained is a big question. Morelli is certainly likable enough, but his getting closer to Stephanie threatens some of the independence that makes Stephanie an appealing character to begin with.
Evanovich's continued nurturing of a strong sense of place is, after the Plum character herself, the most effective tool in the author's arsenal. Stephanie describes the neighborhood in both prideful and disdainful terms, a dichotomy that serves as metaphor for her own hangups about family, career, and self. The burg is a place where nobody in the beauty parlor is impressed by her gun because everyone's got a bigger one in her purse, where no self-respecting household is ever unprepared for unexpected dinner guests, and where it's not long before whatever shocking thing you received via FedEx is known by everyone remotely connected to you. Stephanie holds many of the values she has grown up with (Barbie as role model, for example) in utter disdain; yet she loves the nobody-messes-with-me attitude that even the most elderly women in the burg never suppress. It drives her nuts that everyone is in everybody else's business, but even while she complains about it, she depends on it to help her with her work.
There is a sexiness that permeates the series so far. I wrote in my review of the first novel that the narrative is sexy without being sexual. This second novel continues to walk that line, but it gets really close to going over it, close enough that it might turn some readers off with some of its language. As a reader who dislikes lengthy descriptions of sexual activity in the middle of a good mystery, I admit my own tolerance was taken nearly to its limit. Here's hoping this doesn't become a trend. I like my sexy bounty hunters to keep it PG-13.
As stories go, Two for the Dough is slightly more intriguing plot-wise than One for the Money, but it's really all about character in this series so far, and Stephanie Plum continues to entertain. Evanovich's mixture of humor, action, and sexiness has me enjoying just about every page....more
P is for Peril is such an unusual book in its own series that the discussion of this novel on the Sue Grafton message board has been turned into a stiP is for Peril is such an unusual book in its own series that the discussion of this novel on the Sue Grafton message board has been turned into a sticky; it is permanently affixed near the top of the topic order so it can easily be found by visitors in search of some kind of explanation.
I hadn't even noticed that the book doesn't include Grafton's now-customary epilogue, which takes the form of Kinsey Milhone typing up a quick summary of the case and ties up some of the loose ends, but I had noticed a different vibe in this sixteenth Kinsey novel, a strange detachment from the case and its players as if this is nothing more than a job Kinsey takes for pay. Kinsey does seem to like some of the people involved; however, where the previous installment, O is for Outlaw, immerses her in a case involving her own history, the case she takes here seems the exact opposite, almost as if she had been dropped into some other mystery series written for someone else but needing a main character. Some describe the story here as noir. I wouldn't go that far, but there is a noirish feel here, a shadowy, black-and-white procedural told as if Kinsey is narrating the story about someone else.
It's fine. As stories go, it doesn't suck, and I didn't mind the change in mood, even though I had high hopes since O is for Outlaw had been so terrific. Other reviewers feel that the end leaves the reader hanging, and it does that. I kind of like it that way. Nothing really turns out the way I want, yet I was not left feeling disappointed. Rather, it seemed like the kind of thing that might occasionally fall into Kinsey's lap, and if it is too soon after the events in O is for Outlaw for her to allow us a delve into her emotional state, I can understand. That was a lot for Kinsey to deal with, and if anything surprises me, it's that the entire text of P is for Peril isn't simply, "After what I just went through, I've decided to go on vacation in Hawaii. Please proceed to Q is for Quarry where we will return to our usual madness."
Nothing to rave about here, but nothing really to disappoint, either, and interesting enough a story that I was engaged throughout, even if Kinsey wasn't....more
This far into the series, the best thing about a Kinsey Milhone book is what it adds to a reader's understanding of (and liking for) the main characteThis far into the series, the best thing about a Kinsey Milhone book is what it adds to a reader's understanding of (and liking for) the main character. Author Sue Grafton knows this, and she seems to be pacing herself through the remainder of the alphabet with developments in Kinsey's love life, revelations about her past, and coming to terms with abandonment issues in the face of new relationships with family members she's only known about for a short time.
In N is for Noose, Grafton sweeps Kinsey away from her familiar stomping grounds and the focus is on story and perhaps a bit of personal growth; there's not much for those of us eager to learn more about Kinsey's past. She makes up for it (and then some) in O is for Outlaw. Not only do we finally learn something about Kinsey's seldom-discussed first husband, but Micky MacGruder is the central figure in what is so far one of the best-executed novels in the series. A creative, intriguing set-up leads to a fascinating story, which leads to Kinsey's learning more about her past than one might have hoped for in a single installment.
It starts with a phone call from a guy who has come into possession of a box containing some of Kinsey's old belongings. It leads to a chance at redemption for the man she married at such a young age and divorced after such a short time. Grafton creates a really, really good plot here, putting Kinsey in a place where she willingly dredges up her past and makes herself emotionally vulnerable, something that the tough, independent Kinsey might normally shun.
Readers who for some reason have stalled-out at some point in the alphabet before O are encouraged to power through those doldrums (my own were with J, K, and L) and get to O, because it is a standout in this excellent series, an entertaining and rewarding combination of intriguing storytelling and fascinating character development. This is my new favorite Kinsey....more
Stephanie Plum was a discount lingerie buyer for a New Jersey store that "wasn't exactly Victoria's Secret.It's fluff, but it's rather good for fluff.
Stephanie Plum was a discount lingerie buyer for a New Jersey store that "wasn't exactly Victoria's Secret." A layoff is followed by selling all her furniture, having her car repossessed, and even taking the occasional meal with her parents. When the pet hamster's on his last hamster food, Plum takes a job as a bounty hunter. Her first assignment is a bail-skipping cop wanted for murder, a cop who is also Stephanie's one-time (or two time, depending on how you count things) lover.
In light, easy prose, Janet Evanovich keeps the tone sexy without getting sexual; her playful narrative floating the reader through Stephanie's determined-but-hapless early experiences in a realm completely not hers to inhabit. It works because Evanovich injects whimsy into the outrageous plot setup without (very often) taking it over the top. Dangerous scenes are thoughtfully paced, punctuated at proper (and often unexpected) moments with Stephanie's self-aware sense of humor.
Most importantly for the serial writer, Evanovich creates likeable supporting characters, a necessity in this genre. A fellow bounty hunter gives advice and helps Stephanie out of tough situations. An appliance store manager gives Stephanie discounts on blenders. A mother just wants her girl to get a normal job like everyone else. A cousin on the police force interacts with the main character with the easy, comfortable familiarity a cousin can pull off but a parent or sibling might not. Together, they create safe anchors of assurance in ever-shifting dynamics as Stephanie tries to figure out whom to trust and whom to keep an eye on. When Stephanie sits down in her hallway (she still has no furniture) with her cousin to share a pizza and a six-pack, the reader can relax a bit, can come down from the stress of worrying for her safety, just as Stephanie herself can. We need these characters if we're going to keep hanging out with Stephanie.
As mystery stories go, it's good enough. There's never really an AHA! moment, but the whodunnit aspect of the novel feels secondary to the sympathetic ride Evanovich creates for us as we get to know the most endearing Stephanie Plum....more
In a way, N is for Noose doesn't quite deliver what I expected upon completion of the excellent M is for Malice. M, which involved Kinsey Millhone inIn a way, N is for Noose doesn't quite deliver what I expected upon completion of the excellent M is for Malice. M, which involved Kinsey Millhone in a story that developed Kinsey's personal story far more in one installment than any since A is for Alibi, pointed her fans toward several interesting possibilities. Between the return of Dietz, the interesting dynamic between Kinsey and Guy Malek, and hints that Kinsey might be ready to become more involved in the lives of her cousins, I thought M hinted at further travel down those roads.
Instead, Sue Grafton removes Kinsey almost entirely from Santa Teresa and puts her in the unfamiliar California mountain town of Nota Lake, a town where everyone knows everyone else's business, where strangers who pry are not looked upon with much favor, and where Kinsey is separated from the creature comforts and routines that define her place in the world.
It's an interesting idea. Kinsey's life is characterized by its almost comical simplicity. Now, in this place that is geographically located between Robert Dietz and Kinsey's Santa Teresa home, we can see how many connections and attachments she has formed in what has been only four years in her world (according to the author's note in O is for Outlaw). The absence of these connections provides an unsettling contrast for Kinsey and for the reader. Without Rosie, Henry, Jonah, Tasha, or any of the other regulars Kinsey frequently calls upon for help or support, she is forced to work completely alone, relying on the kindness of untrustworthy strangers.
It adds up to a story of great tension. Neither Kinsey nor the reader of this novel knows whom to trust; every piece of information is received suspiciously; every move Kinsey makes seems fraught with peril. Kinsey is hired by the widow of a detective in Nota Lake's sheriff's department. The death itself doesn't seem suspicious, but the widow wants to know what it was that had her husband behaving not like himself in the months leading up to his heart attack. Kinsey finds it difficult to get many people to talk about the deceased because he was a respected member of the community whom everyone knew; she finds it less difficult to get people to talk about his widow, an outsider who is mistrusted by almost everyone. Kinsey herself is not trusted, and she is encouraged by many people to give the case up and to go back to wherever she came from.
It is an invitation that she longs to accept. Every description of Kinsey's activities seems to magnify her eagerness to return home. Add to the unfriendly work environment the possible connection of two horrible murders to Kinsey's case and the possible interference of law-enforcement personnel in Nota Lake and you get a pretty compelling story.
I have to say that I missed a lot of the character development I was hoping for, but this little break from Kinsey's Santa Teresa world serves the overall, serial arc well. There's no need to hurry things along, after all: we are only on N, leaving us twelve more installments to see what really happens to Kinsey....more