Jenn's Reviews > K is for Killer

K is for Killer by Sue Grafton
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Mar 02, 12

bookshelves: fiction, gift, mystery, novel, read-2012
Read in March, 2012

Maybe it's pointless to jump into reviewing this series midway through, but K is the first book in Grafton's alphabet so far that's seemed much different than the others. I've thoroughly enjoyed the highly devourable mysteries A-I; J is for Judgment left a sour taste in my mouth only insomuch as it trespassed into non-mystery territory at the end, when (spoiler!) protagonist detective Kinsey Millhone discovers, basically out of nowhere, that she has family living not too far away. Her reaction to finding this out is pretty childish and initially in-character, but the open hostility and sustained unreasonableness of the character in the last 40 or 50 pages of the book made me hope for redemption -- or at least further development -- in K.

K seems promising in its plot, at first. A bright but stand-offish young woman, Lorna Kepler, is found dead in her tiny cottage. Ten months later, her distraught mother asks Kinsey to look into her death -- in part because someone has just mailed Mom a videotape in which the bright, favored daughter appears in a porn film.

The book slowly sinks, though, into tropes and bizarre complications. Lorna's lifestyle -- it turns out she worked part-time for the city's water treatment plant and part-time as a high-dollar sex worker -- is criticized soundly by nearly every character in the book, save one, her best friend (and fellow hooker), Danielle. Thus the book quickly divides into two groups: the fat, jealous women who speak about Lorna's life with disgust, and the thin pretty friend who's a hooker. Oh, and the men, all of whom seem to have wanted her. Kinsey's search for a possible killer leads her to San Francisco to check up on the porn film director and fellow actor. (The actor is one of the only friendly characters in the book, in part because he's one of the only surprising characters). There's really no point to this trip beyond, I can only guess, some kind of editorial advice that "maybe throw in some sex" was handed over.

The only fun in the book comes from some banter between Kinsey and a new-to-readers male cop, Cheney Phillips, who spends the first half of the book being strangely seductive and professional. At about the 3/4 mark on the book, he becomes a jerk (and magically gains a girlfriend), in order to slow the progression of the mystery and to force Kinsey into a moral dilemma.

By the end, three more people have died. All three die after Kinsey has received the clue that reveals who Lorna's real killer is; none of the three is confirmed to have been killed by the same person. In fact, the book varies completely from form at the end: not only are crimes left unsolved, but Kinsey doesn't even mention her final accounting with the family of the deceased (one of whom is implicated in an illegal act not long before the resolution). The epilogue deals with the (absent) consequences for the questionable moral decision Kinsey's made. I'd like to hope that might be dealt with in L, but this book leaves me no hope.

Why? Because J's issues didn't make the cut here. Though the family drama is mentioned, it's only mentioned once, in dialogue. Unfortunately, there does seem to be some form of bitter hangover happening for either the character or the author. The childish, bitter, unreasonable Kinsey of the J finale shows up from the beginning of K. Where the descriptions in earlier books have often found clever ways to categorize new acquaintances, this book seems rife with uncreative and insulting descriptions. An initial meeting with the sister of the deceased leads Kinsey to cunningly observe that, "From the size of her butt, she'd eaten many boxed cakes." That's neither creative nor funny. It's just mean. Her observations of nearly every other woman in the book are similarly critical and hateful. The men, on the other hand, come off nicely -- they're mostly broad-shouldered, sturdily dressed, friendly in their smiles, light in their eyes. (One exception: a stereotypical pimp, whose physical dimensions are basically repeated in a stereotypical john later on). Add to this the fact that the author, for some reason, spends time not only reminding the reader of how many calories Kinsey's daily run burns but also finding the only good quality in any of the women seen to be the bare, flat midriffs of Danielle and an actress named Cherie, and you end up with a book that feels like it's simmering with the repressed bitchy hunger of a character (or writer?) who really, really needs a piece of cake and a day out with some decent girlfriends.

So, even though I received H-M for Valentine's Day, it may be a while before I can lift L is for Lawless.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Martha I just finished this book and saw your review. Wow, you hit the nail on the head about her descriptions of other women, i missed that point until now. I did feel her class description of the Keplers tasetless- the husband, a plumber, sterotyping the labor workers didn't appeal to me.

This is an excellent review. You have opened my eyes on how to critique a book!


Jenn Thanks! I'm glad to hear it rang true for someone else.


Marla Mutch Great review, I agree and felt the book didn't even end with a good wrap up. But the fat hating is off putting.


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