“V” is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton 2011
Grafton has perfected the different POVs and tying them all together for a story that leaves no guessing. The story begins with a 23-year-old Princeton graduate Phillip Lanahall who has a gambling problem in 1986. Mobster Dante loans him money which he promises to payback with 25% interest, but Dante sets him up at the gambling tables with a woman who forces him to lose. He offers his new car, and Dante tells his vicious brother Cappi to “take care of it” and check out the car. Instead he tosses the boy off the parking deck. Forward to the present where Kinsey witnesses two women shoplifting and reports it. Audrey is arrested and commits suicide. Her fiancé Marvin hires her to find out the truth. Reporter Diana Alvarez makes an annoying appearance, but Kinsey warms up to her by the end of the story. We meet Pinky who gave Kinsey her first break-in tools, and he needs money. She helps him get a ring which leads to a lot of trouble with the mob. Det. Len Priddy who was a friend of Kinsey’s first husband Mickey shows up and dislikes her now as much as in the past. Kinsey finds herself in the middle of a theft ring, and former boyfriend Cheney warns her to stay out of it. I won’t say anything about Nora, but she has her own POV so she’s important. This story has Kinsey playing detective wholeheartedly and making lots of new friends or tying up loose ends with old acquaintances. Grafton was upping her game as she came to the end of the alphabet. Her sarcasm is subtle but strong. You won’t want to miss reading this one.
“U” is for Undertow by Sue Grafton 2009
Michael Sutton comes to Kinsey with a memory of seeing a body buried when he was six years old. He thinks it was 4-year-old Mary Claire Fizhugh, who was kidnapped July 19, 1967, but never returned. Grafton shifts between the 1960s and 1980s changing point of views and giving us background into the different characters that impact the plot. Patrick and Deborah Unruh have to deal with son Greg turned hippie, his pregnant girlfriend Shelly and her son Shawn who live in a bus. They leave behind their newborn daughter, Rain, who is kidnapped 10 days before Mary Claire but returned after Patrick pays the ransom with marked bills. Michael has a history of falsely accusing people of sex abuse and when the body turns out to be a wolf-dog, they dismiss his story. Clever reference to the boy who cried wolf.
Kinsey has to deal with a family reunion, letters sent to her as a child and her Aunt Gin from Grand, and her obsession for making sense of what happened to Mary Claire. She has to deal with ex-cop Dolan, who was on the original case and Detective Cheney, who helps her with the current dig. The characters are well-drawn with the insights into their past and the reader understands their motives for committing the crimes. It’s a popular technique in today’s writing, especially romance to have both the hero and heroine POV and in mystery to have the killer and detectives POV for a more balanced story. For anyone needing a lesson on how to pull multi-POVs off, read this book. Even though the plot is complicated, it falls into place and is easy to follow. Grafton throws in a date discrepancy but then doesn’t explain when Michael saw the kidnappers digging the grave.
This is also a good book for those new to Grafton because she summarizes everything in Kinsey’s past so you can catch up in her life or read the previous A through T books.
“T” is for Trespass by Sue Grafton 2007
The plot was simple with a woman stealing the identity of nurse Solana Rojas and taking over the life and wealth of Henry and Kinsey’s elderly neighbor, Gus. Grafton used Solana’s POV in this story and we see her cold-blooded motivation, which made her more terrifying. Kinsey and the others in the story don’t see Solana as a threat until it’s almost too late. Kinsey has broken up with Cheney although she has a short moment of regret when she sees him. Kinsey is driving a 1970 Mustang instead of her old VW, which was buried in the previous story. Kinsey is working on other cases and takes her time looking into Solana’s background a second time (the first didn’t show anything wrong) as her suspicions rise. By that time Solana has sold Gus’s antique furniture, emptied his bank account and is trying to sell his artwork and get a loan on his property. The story has a few shockers, violent confrontations, and a nail-biting ending.
This story hit home because a “friendly” couple helped my great aunt. In reality he was on disability, which he emphasized and they took over her finances claiming to be “helpful.” It was at a time when swindling the elderly was none of anyone’s business, especially when the elderly person praised all the “wonderful” things their helpers did for them. I was in my teens and smelled a rat, but she died before anyone thought to question their care or the fact they had positioned themselves to have access to everything before the estate was settled.
“S” is for Silence by Sue Grafton 2005
“S” should have been for sex. Grafton has several sex scenes that are tastefully done but not common in a mystery genre. She also writes several chapters back in 1953, the time of the disappearance of Violet, from the point of view of many of the suspects. In 1953 it appeared as if everyone had a motive and opportunity to kill Violet if she was murdered. Her daughter Daisy wants closure. She needs to know her mother didn’t abandon her or why she did leave without taking her.
We see Violet through many eyes including Daisy, Liza, her babysitter, Liza’s friend Kathy, and the men in town. Although her abusive husband is the prime suspect, Kinsey doesn’t leave anyone out of the investigation. The tires on her VW are slashed as a warning, but Kinsey brings her gun along on this trip.
I took notes to try to keep the characters clear but when the ending was revealed, I had to look back and figure out what was his motive. This novel was 374 pages, and I thought there were some loose ends. The pink notebook paper bothered me because it belonged to Kathy but implicated Tannie’s father. The scheme seemed complicated once the effort and timing needed to fulfill it was spelled out.
I also thought the motive was weak because the suspect had other, much easier, ways to obtain the money he needed. Kinsey also downplays a statutory rape incident and has a happy reunion of the two. This read like Peyton Place with all the affairs, illegitimate children, and interference by friends and relatives. But Grafton wasn’t afraid to try new things and many authors use multiple POVs in their novels today. Going back in time and seeing the people act out the events of 1953 and compare them to the lies they tell Kinsey in the present puts the reader into the story more. It also develops the characters and reveals more about them that can’t be seen from the private investigator’s POV alone.
“R” is for Ricochet by Sue Grafton 2004
Kinsey babysits Reba Lafferty after serving a sentence for embezzling $350,000 from her boss Alan Beckwith. She was having an affair with him and took the fall for him, thinking he was going to leave his wife, Tracy. Reba bet the money away because she’s a gambling addict. Grafton has two side stories running in this book with Henry maybe having a girlfriend, Mattie, but his brothers appear to be hindering it. Also Kinsey sees Cheney Phillips at her friend Dana’s place, but she thinks he’s married. Cheney makes contact with Kinsey because the FBI is interested in Reba. Beckwith is into money laundering and they want to use Reba to incriminate him. After seeing pictures of Beckwith with his new girlfriend Onni, Reba’s best friend, she takes revenge herself, and Kinsey is busy doing damage control as Reba confronts Onni and Beckwith. They meet Marty, the accountant for Beckwith and end up surveying Beckwith’s new business building and discover his cash counting room. Reba is likeable but a ticking time bomb. Reba is one step ahead of Kinsey as she lifts $25,000 from the money room and heads for Vegas to gamble. Reba tries to help Marty, who is hauled off by Beckwith’s thugs and dies in the money room. Kinsey is kidnapped by Beckwith to lure Reba to the building. Kinsey comes off as a sidekick to Reba in this story. She also takes a beating because help is always too long in coming. Cheney seems to be too busy to realize he’s put Kinsey and Reba in danger, and the FBI aren’t concerned about their safety either which keeps the reader on edge about their fates.
Grafton wasn’t afraid to try new things and having Kinsey one step behind Reba guarantees she’ll get deep into trouble.