X is my first exposure to Sue Grafton’s popular and long-running series of alphabetical novels featuring the private detective Kinsey Millhone. It’s the latest volume, the twenty-fourth in the series, and I’m not quite sure what to think of it. The jury’s out.
Among the many conceits of contemporary detective fiction is the cynical, hard-bitten fighter for justice who is equally proficient with a computer keyboard and her fists. Kinsey Millhone is different. Fists? No way: she doesn’t seem to have a lot of fight in her. And she is most definitely not cynical. In fact, the only way in which she seems predictable is what others might call a soft spot: the overwhelming urge she feels to right wrongs, whether or not there’s money in it for her. Not only does she appear to be indifferent to money—she goes through all the experiences described in this novel without earning a cent. And she’s not a great guesser, either, so you can write off “woman’s intuition.”
X is set in 1989, when Kinsey Millhone is thirty-eight years old. As is all too often the case in detective fiction, she is drawn into seemingly impenetrable mysteries because friends of hers are involved. One is the eighty-nine-year-old man who is her landlord; she lives in a converted garage behind his house. His problem is that he’s a fanatic about saving water—this is Southern California, in the midst of an earlier drought than the one that afflicts us today—and his water bills are mysteriously high. The other friend is the widow of a detective with whom Kinsey worked many years ago, a man she’d thought was a scumbag. The IRS has called the widow to ask that she present records she had destroyed many years earlier.
Granted, in solving these two seemingly innocuous mysteries, Kinsey eventually uncovers shocking crimes. But it all just seems a little too unlikely.
X (Kinsey Millhone #24) by Sue Grafton ★★★☆☆
Sue Grafton has been writing her alphabet series of novels (A Is for Alibi, etc.) about Kinsey Millhone since 1982 and has won several literary awards along the way. There are echoes of the work of the late, great Ross Macdonald in her writing, beginning with the Southern California town of Santa Teresa where Kinsey is based. However, her father, C. W. Grafton, was also a detective novelist.
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