The mysteries of 2015; top choices: contemporary, Part Three

December 27, 2015 at 4:37 pm (Best of 2015, Book review, books, California, Mystery fiction)

How do I love Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone novels; let me count the ways…

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1. Breezy, snappy dialogue

2. Brisk pacing

3. Fascinating glimpses of the California hinterland

[At one point in the investigation, Kinsey finds herself driving through the Los Padres National Forest:

To speak of the national “forest” doesn’t nearly convey the reality of the land, which is mountainous and barren, with no trees at all in this portion of the interior.

On either side of the road, I could see wrinkled stretches of uninhabitable hills where the chaparral formed a low, shaggy carpet of dry brown. Spring mightt be whispering along thee contours, but without water there was very little  green. Pockets of wildflowers appeared here and there, but the dominant color palette was muted gray, dull pewter, and dusty beige.

She reflects ruefully “I missed the reassuring fft-fft-fft of water cannons firing tracers out over newly sown fields.” (As I read this, I could see and hear the irrigation system at work – in better days. Ah, California, where nothing ever happens by half measures.)]

4. Kinsey’s cheerfully unreconstructed dining preferences

[Here she is contemplating a meal at an eatery called Sneaky Pete’s:

What loomed large in my mind’s eye was the image of the specialty of the house:  sandwich made with spicy salami and melted pepper jack cheese, topped with a fried egg, the whole of it served on a Kaiser roll that dripped with butter as you ate.

Later, she mentions Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies “on which my mental health is so often dependent.” (I felt the same way about that delicious confection, in my pre-diabetes days…sigh…)]

5. The depiction of Kinsey the professional; i.e. how she handles the intellectual and strategic challenges that come her way as the sole proprietor of Millhone Investigations

5. Kinsey’s 89-year-old fit-as-a-fiddle landlord Henry Pitts. In X, Henry’s trying to figure out how to reduce his water usage in advance of mandatory rationing. Possibly he goes a bit overboard…

6. The voice of Kinsey herself. I don’t know of another author who makes better use of first person narration. I feel as though I’m being regaled by a world class raconteur!

6. A certain lightheartedness that expresses itself through irreverence and humor

[Here, Kinsey is making an observation re an opulent hotel room in which she unexpectedly finds herself:

This was a far cry from my usual accommodations, which might best be described as the sort of place where protective footwear is advisable when crossing the room.

Due to the impromptu nature of this overnight stay, Kinsey has to wash out her underwear in the bathroom sink. Her comment on this prosaic necessity: “I can just about promise you Philip Marlowe was never as dainty as I.”]

7. An underlying steadiness and seriousness of purpose – in order to see justice served, the job must be done, and done right
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This is the first Kinsey Millhone novel I’ve read in quite some time. When I picked it up a few weeks ago, I was in need of a book that would take me completely out of myself. X was just the ticket.

I’m embarrassed to say that I’d become somewhat dismissive about this series. Oh well, another letter of the alphabet, do I actually care… Well, shame on me! Sue Grafton is a master craftsman at the top of her game. X was  terrific – read it.

Sue Grafton

Sue Grafton

2 Comments

  1. 210Darryl said,

    I thought “X” was the weakest book she’s put out in a long while. It’s still pretty good, but in my opinion not up to par with the last few. Although it’s possible she’s setting up something for the next book(s), so perhaps final judgement on this one will have to wait.

    • Roberta Rood said,

      That’s what makes horse racing, I guess. Maybe I liked it so much because I’d been away from her for so long. The novel wasn’t perfect, but it was much better than many others in the genre that have been recently praised to the skies & that I couldn’t even finish!

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