Kinsey Millhone came to the world’s attention in 1982, when she was a 32-year-old PI, having weathered two marriages and a brief stint as a police officer. With the debut of Sue Grafton‘s long-lived and well-loved series, A is for Alibi, Kinsey investigated divorce attorney Laurence’ Fife’s death. The client? Fife’s wife Nikki, out on parole after doing eight years in prison for his murder. Kinsey was dogged in her pursuit of the truth. And I became a fan. I was younger than Kinsey then – a 27-year-0ld blonde, about to start grad school, with a supportive young husband and a toddler.
Fast forward to today. I’m still a fan, although the toddler’s in grad school himself, the husband’s got even more to be supportive about, and the blonde hair is now fetchingly silver. Kinsey, on the other hand, is still in her 30’s. That’s because in Grafton’s world, only six years have passed since the Fife case so compelling submitted in A is for Alibi. And I’ve got to say, Kinsey’s holding up pretty darn well in the pre-cell phone, pre-Internet, pre-online database world. She’s still kicking butt and taking names the old-fashioned way. And I’m loving it.
In W is for Wasted, Kinsey’s got a knotty series of problems to unravel. Who is T.R. Dace, and why did he die, homeless on the beach, with her name written on a slip of paper in his pocket and almost $600,000 in the bank? How did he get the money, and why leave it to her? As Kinsey looks into Dace’s past, she learns a lot about families and human nature, and even more about the nature of addiction and psychopathy. A satisfying side plot – the apparent murder-by-mugging-that’s-more-than-it-seems of a fellow PI – merges into the Dace mystery by the end of the novel.
It’s amazing that Grafton continues to craft compelling plots featuring a familiar, well-loved cast of characters, without a hint of staleness or fatigue. That wadded-up Jersey dress on the backseat of her bright blue muscle car still shakes out fine. Kinsey’s still attracted to hot-but-mostly-unavailable guys. And though I worry that Henry’s showing his age, he’s still baking up the biscuits and giving sage advice. And when Kinsey battles a scalpel-wielding psychopath with nothing more than a lawn chair and a pair of garden shears, you’ll be on the edge of your seat. Even though you know she’s gonna triumph.
Long-time fans of the series won’t be disappointed in W is for Wasted. To newcomers, I say “welcome!” and encourage you to read the book, then start over with A and work your way forward.