Tag Archives: Sue Grafton

Three new books by old friends

The only thing more exciting than the discovery of a new author you love is the upcoming publication of new books by authors you already adore.  Some fall into the “pre-order this in hardback” category (Michael Connelly, Louise Penny, Ian Rankin, Sue Grafton, and more).

yBittersweet for me was reading Sue Grafton’s Y is for Yesterday, because Grafton has announced that she’ll be retiring upon publication of the Z book (Z is for Zero).  After 35 years and 25 Kinsey Millhone books, she’s ready to be done.  I’ve read every Kinsey book starting with A is for Alibiso slipping between the covers with her new one brought the same pleasures – familiar characters, a little spicy language and potential romance, and a  solid mystery to be solved by the PI with (now) plenty of experience.   The question – who’s blackmailing the ex-con scion of a wealthy family with a sex tape that shows him and several other teens raping a teenage girl?  Fritz McCabe is just out of jail, having done his time for killing one of his classmates, and his parents put Kinsey on the case.  As usual, the story is much more convoluted than it originally appears, and when it all unravels, the ending is a surprise, but not surprising.  Because time passes much more slowly in Kinsey’s world of Santa Teresa, California, the year is 1989.  No internet, no Google, no cell phones – but plenty of shoe leather and face-to-face interviews.  Classic.

glass housesA more thrilling read is Louise Penny’s new Chief Superintendent Gamache novel, Glass Houses.  I came to Penny midseries, but went back to begin Superintendant at the start, with Still Life.  I found it to be full of charm, heartwarming and clever, an original voice.  That has continued through the series.  With Glass Houses, as usual, Armand Gamache has a small band of ultra-loyalists to work with, including his now son-in-law Jean-Guy Beauvoir and newly minted Inspector Isabelle Lacoste, the colorful denizens of the small village of Three Pines, and the trust of those at the highest level of the Canadian government.  There are two questions to be addressed in the book:  why is a costumed figure haunting the Three Pines village green?  And will Gamache be successful in bringing down a drug cartel that is gathering so much power, he expects it will take over the country if it is not stopped?  It is no surprise to faithful readers to learn that the answer to both questions are resolved successfully, but not without great personal cost.  As Penny has ratcheted up the stakes with each Gamache book, it has occurred to me that there can surely only be so many times that the bad guys underestimate our protagonist.  Gamache is always playing the long game against difficult odds.  That, and Penny’s willingness to harm and even kill main characters we have come to know and love, adds a nail-biting quality to the already considerable tension.

late showThird up is Michael Connelly’s The Late Show.  Unlike Grafton and Penny, Connelly is not delivering another book in an already loved series (Harry Bosch, Mickey Haller), but taking a flyer with a new lead character, LAPD detective Renee Ballard.  Brave man to take on a female protagonist, and he does an good job portraying the challenges and the characteristics of this young female.  Connelly’s given her the quirk of homelessness – she surfs and spends many nights with her dog in a tent on the beach – which I found unnecessary.  (I imagine he’ll dispense with this or use it as a pivotal plot point in a future book.)  Ballard’s working mostly on her own on the night shift (nicknamed “the late show”) as punishment for filing a sexual harassment complaint against a supervisor.  Still, she’s does her best for the many victim she meets, and works hard to shine while doing so.  It’s tough, because she’s supposed to hand off the cases she catches to the detectives who work days.  Kind of like a doctor who always does the intake, and never gets to cure anybody.  Still, she’s determined to get to the bottom of the ruthless beating of a transgender prostitute – a victim type that is often marginalized by the police – and also to figure out what really happened in a nightclub shooting.  Needless to say, she does, and it’s a pretty wild ride.  My take – definitely a hit and a series I will be sure to read.   

G is for Grafton


Sue Grafton

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.

WIn 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.

V is for Vengeance

Sue Grafton has got to be one satisfied lady, to have made a solid writing career out of one iconic character.   She and her protagonist, Kinsey Millhone, started back in 1982 with A is for Alibi, followed quickly thereafter with B is for Burglar and C is for Corpse.  And that’s when I started reading her.  I own quite a few books in hardcover, including her latest, V is for Vengeance.

It’s no news to anybody that Kinsey lives in an alternate universe, where the earth takes quite a bit longer to circle the sun than it does in ours.  Kinsey started out  in 1982 investigating the death of a divorce lawyer.  She was 32 then, cutting her hair with her nail scissors and living in jeans and sneakers.   Me?  I was 27.  As I recall, my hair was naturally golden, I had a truly terrible perm, and I was still trying to lose the weight from my first baby.  Kinsey was a full five years older then I was.

Flash forward to today. I sat down to read V is for Vengeance, the 22nd book in the series.  It is 2012 and I am (gulp) 57.  The hair?  Silver, not gold.  Still trying to lose the baby weight, though.  The baby’s 30.

Kinsey?  She’s 38.  Damn her.  She’s still wearing that all-purpose black polyester dress that only requires a shake to render it wrinkle-free.  She’s personally without wrinkles, as well, although she does get more than her fair share of black eyes and bruises – this outing, even a broken nose.  Of course, in the Grafton Universe, it’s only 1988.  Time goes very, very slowly there.  No cell phones.  No personal computers.  No Google.  Kinsey’s still looking things up in the reverse directory and knocking on doors.

The book is a good read, of course.  That goes without saying.  A little darker than usual, in my opinion.  Starts with a bit of a prologue – college kid thinks he’s a big-shot gambler, runs up a tab he can’t pay, and goons throw him off a roof.  Awk.  Who are these people?  You won’t really know everything you need to know for a couple of hundred pages.

In the meantime, Kinsey spies a shoplifter, ends up getting hired by the mysterious shoplifter’s heartbroken fiance after she supposedly commits suicide, picks around until she uncovers a bigger, more impactful crime.  In a separate plot thread, a mobster tries to deal with his big lunk of a stupidhead brother and falls in love with the lovely but sad wife of a cheating husband who owes him money.

Confused?  You won’t be.  Grafton keeps it all straight, you’ll follow her through all the twists and turns and there’s a surprise you don’t expect at the end.  It’s funny, with funny characters, but not over the top.   Definite thumbs up.

I don’t know what Sue Grafton will do when she gets to Z.  Start over with AA (bra size?  batteries?).  Or perhaps start in Greek:  Alpha is for Arrivederci  could be a multilingual hit.  She could start at 1; then again, Janet Evanovich might have that tied up.  In interviews and on her website, she declines to speculate.

A literary Christmas morning

It’s Christmas and as usual there are DVDs, CDs, and books under the tree – even a Kindle.  (And the ubiquitous Borders gift cards, of course.)

For the older son: Stephen King‘s Under the Dome.  It was all I could do to keep him from buying it himself three days ago.  (He doesn’t get the “don’t buy anything until after Christmas” idea that was passed down to me from my parents!)

For the younger son (vocal performance major at Columbia College Chicago)- Performance Success:  Performing Your Best Under Pressure by Dr. Don Greene.

Arty progressive husband got Inside the Painter’s Studio from the Museum of Contemporary Art bookstore and Thom Hartmann’s book, Threshold.  Kindle-wise, he has loaded three Harry Bosch books by Michael Connelly already on his device.

And I got Sue Grafton‘s U is for Undertow (I have owned everything from A is for Alibi on at one time or another, and the last few are arranged alphabetically on my bookshelves in hardcover).  Plus, PD James’ book, Talking About Detective Fiction, which is getting rave reviews and will help me motivate up for more writing!

I gifted a couple of books, too, including Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs, which was the first book in a long time which made me say, “Wow, that was a good book,” when I closed the cover for the final time.  I read a copy from the library, so by purchasing the book and mailing it to my mom, I was both sharing the experience with her and making sure Ms. Moore got at least a little $$ for her work!   As Christmas morning is the time for gift-opening in the Branshaw family, I’m safe posting this because she’s already opened her present.

I also bought a really fun book (and one that I own personally) for my friend Nancy.  If you’ve seen the TLC Show, What Not to Wear, you’ve seen Clinton Kelly and Stacy London.  They co-wrote a book Dress Your Best which is just fabulous for helping you figure out your own fashion rules according to your body shape.  Read the book, and you will never again buy something that looks better on the hanger than on you.

Everyone has wandered off to delve into their various presents until lunchtime.  We’ll be continuing our “literary” theme this afternoon, when we head to Cinemark for the new Sherlock Holmes movie. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law are not exactly my mind’s eye vision of Holmes and Watson, but I’m betting they have the acting chops to convince me.  Happy Holidays!