“Y” is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton 2017
This was the longest of Grafton’s novels at 483 pages and she often repeated the story about the night Sloan is murdered by her classmates Troy, Fritz, Austin and Baynard. Grafton uses flashbacks to 1979 and then returns to 1989 where Kinsey is asked to investigate a sex tape sent to Fritz after serving eight years for shooting Sloan.
Grafton uses the Climping Academy to show us the spoiled young people who party with alcohol and dope and spin their lives out of control. The plot of Iris stealing a proficiency test so her friend Poppy and Troy can move onto their senior year turns into a shunning of Sloan and her ultimate death when she steals the sex tape to stop Austin from bullying them. Grafton gives us plenty of suspects, turns and twists, and a final showdown.
Grafton weaves several threads including the blackmail, another murder, and a lot of secrets before the reader discovers the true story. In addition she has Ned from the previous book to contend with as he seeks revenge not only on Kinsey but his past wives Phyllis and Celeste. A third story involves Anna, Jonah and Cheney.
At the end of the story, Kinsey has a cat, dog, and numerous friends but she is cynical about the justice system. What she doesn’t have is a man in her life and fans have to wonder if in “Z” Grafton would have ended the series with Kinsey finding a third husband. We’ll never know.
Kinsey was based on Grafton and she had success and happiness in the end before cancer took her too soon.
“X” by Sue Grafton 2015
Grafton has several stories progressing along parallel paths and preparing to intersect in this book. The story begins with wealthy couple Ari and Teddy Xanakis. He cheated. She filed for divorce. Now they are fighting over the money and property, especially a valuable painting. Teddy tricks Kinsey into finding ex con Christian Satterfield who steals the painting. Kinsey gives Teddy and Ari marital advice (Kinsey?) and this seemed like a separate story. The main plot involves Pete from the previous story. Kinsey considered him a corrupt PI who bent the rules. But his widow Ruthie has such a different view, Kinsey begins to reevaluate her opinion of him, especially when she finds a coded message and list of six women in his belongings. Hoping to close loose ends in Pete’s life, she tracks down the women, who are tied to a sociopath, Ned Lowe, who adds Kinsey to his list of victims. I couldn’t understand why Pete kept the case a secret, and Ned gets away. It seemed sloppy. The other story concerns new elderly neighbors who take advantage of Henry. Kinsey shows the elderly as good and bad guys. Kinsey meets Cheney’s mother but her ex-boyfriend is absent until the end when Dietz talks to him about Ned. The story has several surprises and Pete is redeemed but it wasn’t a favorite.
“W” is for Wasted by Sue Grafton 2013
Grafton uses one other POV in this story and since the guy is dead, the flashbacks of Pete Wolinsky, PI, show the reader what he was up to and how it intersects with Kinsey. Our orphan detective discovers she is the heir to dead man, Terrence Dace, who turns out to be the nephew of her father. After spending time in jail for a crime he didn’t commit, his children wrote him off with the help of their mother, and he is a homeless man looking for his uncle’s family (Kinsey). Grafton spends a lot of time on the homeless in this story as well as drug fraud. Pete hires Kinsey’s former boyfriend Dietz to spy on a woman in Reno at a convention with Dr. Reed. She’s met an old high school friend who is a journalist, and they are trying to prove Dr. Reed is changing numbers on a study on a drug for alcoholics. Dietz wasn’t paid and shows up for the money. Dace was part of the study and when he dies, boggarts or beggars rob him. His homeless friends Pearl and Felix with Kinsey’s help, steal back his belongings. Then Felix is beaten and dies from his injuries by the boggarts. One boggart witnessed Pete’s murder, and Kinsey tells Cheney, but Grafton doesn’t mention if anything happened to him. I hate loose ends. Kinsey gets to know her three worthless cousins who want part of the inheritance Dace left to Kinsey. Her mother’s family is looking GOOD by comparison. Kinsey says good-bye to Dietz who is spending time with his son Nick. Cheney asks if she’s dating anyone but he doesn’t ask her out on a date. What is wrong with the guy? A cat is introduced in the story, and Kinsey falls for him and risks life and limb to save him. Grafton reveals more about Kinsey’s personal life in this one and shows the complexity and motives of her detective. I admire Grafton for taking chances with different POV uses and for the detailed research she did about topics that are complicated. The story had a lot of options, but I wasn’t completely satisfied with the one she chose.
“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.
“Q” is for Quarry by Sue Grafton 2002
Kinsey helps Lt. Dolan and retired cop Stacey Oliphant work on a cold case of a Jane Doe. They think Frankie Miracle did it because he had just killed his girlfriend. The quarry is located on LeGrand property of 2300 acres belonging to Kinsey’s grandmother. It forces her to meet more of her relatives including Aunt Susanna, who gives her a photo album that ends with her parents’ elopement. She visits Miracle’s old jail cellmate Pudge in jail right before he is let go. He tries to implicate Miracle. A witness saw a 1966 Mustang not Chevy that Miracle had stolen from his dead girlfriend. Iona is Miracle’s new girlfriend (they love bad guys) and defends him. Pudge dated Iona so they all know each other. The Mustang was stolen from the McPhee family home where Ruel, Edna and son Cornell and daughter Adrianne live. Cornell is married to Justine and has three kids. Justine is the daughter of the town drunk, Medora, who took in foster kid Charisse who was a lot of trouble. Dental records prove Charisse is the dead Jane Doe and things heat up as Kinsey closes in on who killed her.
There are several red herrings in this story but enough foreshadowing to guess the motive of the killing.
The story deals a lot with the friendship of Kinsey, Dolan and Stacey, especially when Dolan has a heart attack. Kinsey uses her charm to make friends with her suspects but it takes a long time for the tension and action to heat up.
The story was easy to follow and the tie to Kinsey’s family made it more interesting. Grafton spends a lot of time on description, her forte, but it makes the book appear padded since it runs 380 pages. Grafton shares how she was given the idea of a Jane Doe case and the fact she keeps a journal during the writing of her books, beginning with a workable story line.
“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 Tasha 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.
‘I’ is for Innocent by Sue Grafton 1992
Big changes for Kinsey in this story. She was fired from California Fidelity Insurance and 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 1991
When I was half-way through this book, I realized I had read it before but only remember 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???