“O” is for Outlaw by Sue Grafton

“O” is for Outlaw by Sue Grafton 1999

At the beginning Grafton writes about Kinsey Millhone being caught in a time warp IMG_1883and living in 1986 instead of real time. Other authors have done that because the character would age too much in a long series written in real time. I will quote her final statement because I like it. “In my view, the delight of fiction is its enhancement of the facts and its embellishments of reality. Aside from that—as my father used to say—‘I know it’s true because I made it up myself.’”

Grafton has said little about Kinsey’s first husband but this book is all about Mickey Magruder, a vice cop 15 years older than her, and we learn about Kinsey’s strengths and weaknesses throughout the story. A sleazy buyer of a foreclosed storage unit sells her items Mickey had put in a box when she walked out on him at the age of 21. Mickey had asked her to lie about his whereabouts for an alibi for an involuntary murder charge. Kinsey had refused, not knowing he was with another woman, which would have given her a better reason for leaving. Kinsey has bad taste in men. If they aren’t married, they’re father figures like Magruder and Dietz.

Two detectives show up asking questions and tell her Mickey was shot with a gun registered to Kinsey. It was a wedding gift from Mickey. A true romantic. Mickey is in a coma, and Kinsey begins to rethink her quick judgment about the murder rap but realizes she was ready to leave him only after a few months of marriage. He liked living on the edge and she preferred stability. We are introduced to a lot of cops from Mickey’s past, not one but two mistresses, and his lawyer. The Honky Tonk where the cops hung out is now owned by one of the sons of a cop and Kinsey pokes her nose into a scam that may or may not be linked to the shooting of Mickey. The Vietnam War plays a role as the past comes to light, and Kinsey puts together the pieces that Mickey found, pushing her closer to the shooter and danger. Kinsey makes friends of the oddest characters including two old ladies and their cat, the reincarnation of their dead sister. The two detectives are inept and leave Kinsey to rescue herself with a little help from a new friend.

When you buy a used book, sometimes you discover a treasure. In this book, I found a review from the Akron Beacon Journal from Oct. 31, 1999. They liked the plot and fresh style that was lacking in recent novels but admitted Kinsey’s character is more interesting than any plot. Grafton was smart to dole out info on her in small portions.

Kinsey has covered her two husband’s histories. Now it’s time to look at her cousins and grandmother and ultimately her parents.

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“N” is for Noose by Sue Grafton

“N” is for Noose by Sue Grafton 1998

This is one of those side trips for Kinsey. After playing nurse to “boyfriend” Dietz IMG_1884who had knee surgery, she heads to Nota Lake for a new client Selma Newquist, whose husband Tom died of a heart attack. Selma thinks Tom was worried about something and wants Kinsey to find out what it was. The townsfolk are the descendants of criminals but most of them are in police work. Kinsey goes through Tom’s messy belongings, sorting them and boxing them but doesn’t come across much except drawings of nooses and dates on his desk calendar. She talks to everyone and realizes his notebook is missing and nobody cares much for Selma, who was snobby. Kinsey is warned to let the case go and a man in a ski mask stalks her and attacks her in hotel room where she burns him with an iron. He dislocates her fingers. When she goes to hospital, Grafton vents about medical insurance through Kinsey. Grafton throws in some red herrings and more clues such as a woman walking on the road the night Tom died. Kinsey continues the investigation back home and finds a connection between two bad guys Tom was investigating. The story has some oddities. Selma demands Kinsey return to town where someone has spread the rumor she is a dope-crazed vigilante and killed two men. The reader knows it was self-defense but someone is setting her up. Kinsey trusts too many people in this story. She contacts the killer for no apparent reason and discovers too late her gun has been stolen. Again! The motive for the killings is different but makes sense. The number code was a bit silly. Tom wasn’t going to reveal the name even if he was a cop by the books. It was one of those secrets a good man carries to the grave.

 

“M” is for Malice by Sue Grafton

“M” is for Malice by Sue Grafton  1996

Kinsey’s former lover Robert Dietz returns into her life and he’s still a rolling stone while she plans to stay right where she is. She taps down any emotion, but when he leaves to visit his sons, it punches her in the gut. She has lunch with her cousin IMG_1885Tasha Howard, an attorney who offers her a job. Kinsey owes Tasha for bailing her out in an earlier story. Kinsey looks like her cousins and she’s trying not to warm up to them, but they are wearing her down for a family connection. Her sarcasm is strong. The job involves finding a missing heir after Bader Malek dies. He has four sons, Donovan, Guy, Bennet and Jack. Guy was the troublemaker who ran away from home. She needs to find him. A new will cutting Guy out of the inheritance can’t be found and the old one divides the $40 million equally. The brothers are not likeable. Donovan is all about work and neglects his wife Christie, who happens to be a friend of Tasha. Bennett is a drunk and poor entrepreneur and Jack golfs.

Kinsey identifies with Guy whose bad behavior included drugs, girls and stealing. Guy also cheated a widow before leaving town.

Kinsey finds Guy pretty easily in a nearby town where he found God thanks to Pete and Winnie. He’s a handyman at the church and around the small town. He said his parents gave him no direction or limits. He doesn’t ask about the money but initially thinks his brothers want to connect with him. Kinsey tells him the truth. They’re always fighting and don’t think he deserves his share of the money since Dad settled $10,000 on him when he left. Guy insists on visiting his brothers and they argue and drink, something Guy had given up. Someone leaks the rags to riches story to the press, crediting Kinsey with finding him. She suspects one of the brothers. They’re angry with her and she talks to the cook Enid and the nurse Myrna, who stayed after the father died. Guy turns up dead with his head bashed in while he slept in his bed about half way through the book.

Kinsey has formed a soft spot for Guy and so has the reader so you want to find out who did him in and why.

Meanwhile Dietz who left to visit his two sons, has returned and they begin working together although Dietz does a lot of paperwork while Kinsey interviews her suspects. She finds a typewriter in one of the brother’s rooms that was used to send the alerts to the media as well as write a threatening letter to Guy. She also picks apart Jack’s alibi when his friend Paul admits he left the country club during the time of the murder. In addition she learns more about the widow that had valuable famous letters stolen from her by Guy. We learn that old flame Jonah’s wife is expecting another man’s baby and his detective partner has the hots for him. Kinsey warns her about the ex and strong cord. She also mentions she has given up carrying a gun. So now she has to rely on wits alone. The story has a few surprises although one was heavily foreshadowed. With limited suspects the story is easy to follow and Kinsey’s character shines above the simple plot.

‘J’ is for judgment by Sue Grafton

‘J’ is for Judgment by Sue Grafton 1994

Grafton seems to be hitting her stride with this and the previous novel. Her writing shows a polish that makes reading quicker even though the plots are more IMG_1880complicated. This one has a nice surprise twist at the end.

Kinsey is approached by her former boss Mac Voorhies because a former employee saw Wendell Jaffe in Mexico. Wendell and his partner Carl Eckhert were part of a Ponzi scheme that stole millions from clients. Wendell faked his death off his yacht, The Captain Stanley Lord, and has been playing house with a rich widow Renata for five years. His wife Dana back home had him declared dead and filed for $500,000 in insurance from, you guess it, California Fidelity. They hire Kinsey to get to the bottom of it. She spies on Wendell and Renata but they leave before she can take a photo for proof. She also has to play a hooker to the man in the room next to Wendell, and he turns out to be a person of interest later on.

Kinsey gets to know Dana, her son Michael and his family and her son Brian, who is in a lot of trouble and could show up in a future book. She also befriends Renata. Carl now owns the Captain Stanley Lord and confesses there was $3 million hidden on it to keep investors from getting their money back.

Kinsey was “born to snoop” and is tempted when the occasion presents itself. She also makes friends with a lot of the women, returning to visit several times.

Grafton weaves plenty of twists and turns in the story about family secrets and betrayal. She also introduces Kinsey’s family she never knew about. Kinsey isn’t ready to meet her grandmother, aunts and cousins but I’m sure she will in the future.

 

‘I’ is for Innocent by Sue Grafton

‘I’ is for Innocent by Sue Grafton 1992

Big changes for Kinsey in this story. She was fired from California Fidelity Insurance IMG_1882and lost her adjoining office space. Now she’s working for attorney Lonnie Kingman and takes over the investigation of a case after Morley Shine dies of a heart attack. The files are a mess and she has to track down information and interview witnesses from the criminal case where David Barney is acquitted of the murder of his ex-wife Isabelle. Kingman is bringing civil charges against him.

For anyone who wants to understand the legal system and how it works, Grafton describes the process in this book and gives a good overview of what is going on before a trial. David looked like a good suspect. Isabelle was the one with the money, and he would lose financially in a divorce. He was obsessed with her and harassed her like a love-struck stalker, and a gun went missing at a party where all the suspects were present. Unfortunately, several witnesses place him too far from the crime scene to have done the shooting, and Kinsey has to find out who did the murder.

Grafton moves in two circles of suspects. Isabelle hurt her family and friends in one way or another. She also adds a subplot about a fatal hit and run that turns out to be the key to the murder. The other circle of suspects revolves around Morley and that holds several surprises.

This one has a surprise punch after a few jabs and was one of the best so far.

‘H’ is for Homicide by Sue Grafton

‘H’ is for Homicide by Sue Grafton 1991

When I was half-way through this book, I realized I had read it before but only IMG_1859remember parts of it. Grafton departs from her usual story plot and places Kinsey undercover instead of investigating a crime. It starts with Parnell Perkins dead in the parking lot and a new boss, Gordon Titus. Someone is filing false claims and Kinsey tracks down Bibianna Diaz. She befriends her at a bar where she runs into an old classmate, Jimmy Tate, who was a cop but got into trouble. While eating, Bibi’s old boyfriend, Raymond Maldonado, who is head of the insurance fraud scam, sends his brother and his wife to bring Bibi back. Tate shoots the man, wounds the woman, and Bibi and Kinsey are arrested. She uses a fake ID of Hannah. Dolan asks her to go undercover and find evidence against Raymond.

Grafton wanted to have some fun with Kinsey. She gets to dress up and try on a street-wise girl personality, she gets to go to jail and make new friends, and she is held as a friendly hostage in Raymond’s apartment where a pit bull takes a fondness for her. She figures out where the files are and has plenty of names but hangs around longer than common sense dictates although Grafton tries to justify the delay. But what really doesn’t make sense is Dolan leaves her out to dry without any contact or help. She is on her own even though an LAPD cop is with the gang. Nobody seems to realize how dangerous Raymond is. The book is short, 200 pages, and could have used some different twists and turns. Dolan certainly owed her an apology and instead puts her on hold when she finally gets a phone in her hand and calls him. What???

 

‘G’ is for Gumshoe by Sue Grafton

‘G’ is for Gumshoe by Sue Grafton 1990

Grafton reveals more about private investigator Kinsey Millhone who is celebrating her 33rd birthday on May 5. A fellow Taurus. She is also 5 foot 6 inches and 118 IMG_1861pounds. I like her even more. Her apartment, which was blown up in ‘E’ is for Evidence has been rebuilt thanks to her wonderful neighbor Henry. She is hired to find Agnes, 83, the mother of Irene Gersh who lives in the desert. She also finds out a hitman has been hired to kill her because of her work to put Tyrone Patty in jail. The girl is popular. The two problems intersect when the hitman, with his 5-year-old son in tow, runs her VW off the road. This leads her to hire a bodyguard, Robert Dietz. Agnes keeps talking about falling chimneys and the Bronte sisters and escapes from the nursing home her daughter puts her in. The search leads them to the home for the elderly. The hitman shows up and Irene has a meltdown. A tea set her mother had in the desert also sets her off. In the midst of all this, California Fidelity has a retirement party, and Vera sets Kinsey up with a blind date, only to have Kinsey turn the tables on her so that she ends up with the doctor. Kinsey and Dietz discover their own chemistry. Agnes is found but dies of what the medical examiner calls “fright.” The hitman kidnapped his son, and Dietz contacts the mother. The hitman doesn’t kill for money. He likes it. While Kinsey is evading being shot by the hitman, she helps Irene figure out the secrets Agnes went to the grave with and why.

Kinsey spends most of this book black and blue and still manages to attract Dietz, who is so much like her, it’s a bet he’ll return in the future. This was a simpler story without too many suspects. Grafton revealed a little more about Kinsey’s personality and if you haven’t read any other books, reveals her parents were killed in an accident. Her aunt, who died 10 years ago, told her no sniveling. Her life was molded by those events.

 

‘F’ is for Fugitive by Sue Grafton

‘F’ is for Fugitive by Sue Grafton 1989

Grafton leaves her garage home when Royce Fowler hires her to prove his son BaileyIMG_1855 didn’t kill his girlfriend, Jean Timberlake 17 years ago. Bailey escaped from prison a year after he confessed but was arrested under his alias. Royce has a sick wife, Oribelle, who runs the family hotel while complaining about her ailments. Their daughter Ann has quit her job as counselor at the high school to care for her ailing parents but they are driving her insane. Grafton goes back and forth from the present situation to the past crime as she introduces characters who were involved with Jean, who was pregnant when she was killed and looking for her biological father.

Bailey maintains his innocence but during his hearing, his best friend Tap shoots up the courtroom with a shotgun loaded with rocksalt, and Bailey escapes, hiding out. Tap is shot by police leaving his young wife with four children and another on the way. Tap and Bailey were into robberies and had $42,000 stashed with Jean, which has disappeared.

Grafton keeps the reader guessing by adding a preacher, spa owner, and principal who had relationships with Jean. She also throws in a crazy spa owner’s wife who beats Kinsey with a tennis racket. Kinsey whacks her in the nose. Grafton is adding humor to her heroine’s personality. Kinsey also is carrying her new gun but doesn’t use it. Grafton gives us the reason, but the reader can see that Grafton wants Kinsey to be in peril and have to use her wits to get out of trouble. The characters had fuller backstories and the emotional assault on characters was as intense as the physical damage. Kinsey grows in her compassion for Henry, her landlord, from the experience.

For writers, Grafton groups her suspects and makes it easier to identify them as she adds clues and complicates the plot.

‘F’ is for Fugitive by Sue Grafton

‘F’ is for Fugitive by Sue Grafton 1989

Grafton leaves her garage home when Royce Fowler hires her to prove his son BaileyIMG_1855 didn’t kill his girlfriend, Jean Timberlake 17 years ago. Bailey escaped from prison a year after he confessed but was arrested under his alias. Royce has a sick wife, Oribelle, who runs the family hotel while complaining about her ailments. Their daughter Ann has quit her job as counselor at the high school to care for her ailing parents but they are driving her insane. Grafton goes back and forth from the present situation to the past crime as she introduces characters who were involved with Jean, who was pregnant when she was killed and looking for her biological father.

Bailey maintains his innocence but during his hearing, his best friend Tap shoots up the courtroom with a shotgun loaded with rocksalt, and Bailey escapes, hiding out. Tap is shot by police leaving his young wife with four children and another on the way. Tap and Bailey were into robberies and had $42,000 stashed with Jean, which has disappeared.

Grafton keeps the reader guessing by adding a preacher, spa owner, and principal who had relationships with Jean. She also throws in a crazy spa owner’s wife who beats Kinsey with a tennis racket. Kinsey whacks her in the nose. Grafton is adding humor to her heroine’s personality. Kinsey also is carrying her new gun but doesn’t use it. Grafton gives us the reason, but the reader can see that Grafton wants Kinsey to be in peril and have to use her wits to get out of trouble. The characters had fuller backstories and the emotional assault on characters was as intense as the physical damage. Kinsey grows in her compassion for Henry, her landlord, from the experience.

‘E’ if for Evidence by Sue Grafton

‘E’ if for Evidence by Sue Grafton 1988

Only Kinsey Millhone would be upset to have $5,000 deposited into her bank account by error.IMG_1853

She’s working on a routine fire investigation before Christmas on the Wood/Warren property. Kinsey is typing on a Smith-Corona – the same typewriter I bought in high school with my hard-earned babysitting money. I feel like a kindred spirit. Grafton has Kinsey explain how she tracks someone down and uncovers data with wits and a pen. She describes the scenery and people with a list of descriptive phrases. Her multiple characters are easier to keep separate in this story but she gives them good and bad traits so it’s hard to tell who to suspect for the crime.

The holidays are depressing for Kinsey because her neighbor, diner owner and favorite cop are all out of town. Kinsey goes to the burnt warehouse and does the paperwork. The family consists of Linden, who died two years ago, Ashley, Lance, Olive, Ebony and Bass, the black sheep. Olive is married to Terry Kohler, now VP of the company. She turns in her work only to find out after Christmas that the folder has been altered and she looks like she’s a co-conspirator in the arson and fraud along with Lance, the owner of the company. Kinsey is her own client as she interrogates the family, employees and a widow of a man who looked like he committed suicide. The clues are subtle but begin to add up. Greed seems to be the motive and there are plenty of suspects. Kinsey is visited by her second ex-husband Daniel, and Grafton gives us more personal background on Kinsey. Daniel is surfer good looking with bad addiction habits. She discovers his reason for leaving her eight years ago after a year of marriage. I won’t tell.

Thank goodness Grafton wrote this in 1988. She did thorough research on bombs down to the size of the box and how it would kill or burn anyone close by. Today, if she did the same research, she’d have the FBI knocking on her door. Mystery writers are always looking out their window for that black SUV parked on the street.