The 22nd outing for Kinsey Millhone, private detective in the fictional California town of Santa Teresa starts with a brief prologue in which a young man is thrown to his death from the top floor of a Las Vegas parking garage after failing to pay his gambling debts to a loan shark, Lorenzo Dante.The story proper then starts two years later when Kinsey spots two shoplifters in a local department store and after alerting the store’s security to follow one of the woman Kinsey trails after the other. The first woman is Audrey Vance and she is arrested, but shortly after being bailed out of jail by her boyfriend her body is found, apparently having committed suicide from a local bridge. Kinsey is then approached by Audrey’s boyfriend who doesn’t believe she was shoplifting and wants her good name cleared. However Kinsey soon becomes convinced that Audrey was a professional shoplifter, part of a large operation. While all this is going on we’re introduced to a woman called Nora who is married to a wealthy Hollywood agent but soon experiences an upheaval in that relationship. She meets Lorenzo Dante who is tiring of his life of organised crime and becomes smitten with Nora which has unforeseen circumstances. Of course the two stories eventually connect, in several ways by the end of the novel.
This book is a return to a more traditional storytelling format after the departure into part historical fiction of 2010’s U is for Undertow. From a plotting perspective it is complicated but in Grafton’s assured hands the different elements are juggled well, always keeping the reader’s interest There are plenty of twists and turns along the way as Kinsey unravels the shoplifting racket and Nora and Lorenzo do their separate dances with fate. There is a one unlikely coincidences at the very end which I could have done without but I forgave it. I did think it a nice change for a crime novel to spend most of its investigative energy on the crime of organised shoplifting which I had no idea could be so lucrative and…well…organised! Who’d work in retail?
It’s fair to say that Kinsey has never been the most deeply drawn character in crime fiction but here she does seem to be even more solitary and one-dimensional than usual. In the past couple of books she has made tentative connections to the extended family she has discovered, after being orphaned as a young child, but there is no mention of her relatives here. Even Henry, her octogenarian landlord, plays only a minor role as he is out of state for most of the book. So for character development we turn to others including Nora and Lorenzo whose backgrounds are vastly different but whose current dissatisfaction with the direction their lives have taken is interesting to watch unfold.
I have written before about my fondness for this series and have even admitted a certain lack of objectivity which might result in me being a bit more generous about these books than others I read so you’ll have to excuse me a little. Though even I can admit that V is for Vengeance is not the best of the series.It’s a bit long for example. The first books in the series were never 450+ pages long and this one didn’t need to be either. For instance fans of the series already know about Rosie the bar owner’s dodgy Hungarian cooking and I’m sure even readers new to the series would have gotten the gag with less than a dozen or so references to it. There seemed to be a bit of unnecessary filler content like this that in earlier books was either never there to begin with or was edited out.
That said I still enjoyed catching up with Kinsey again and am philosophical about the slight waxing and waning of quality that happens with any long running series. I think i’m still objective enough to be able to say that this series is not on a downward spiral like several I’ve stopped reading all together (e.g. Patrica Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series). Essentially this book is well in keeping with its predecessors and the main characters didn’t do anything ridiculous. I will look forward to the remaining 4 installments of the series. If you’re new to the alphabet books and are curious I would recommend you read the previous novel, U is for Undertow, which I think works much better than this one as a standalone novel or as an introduction to the series. But long time fans will be happy enough with this outing, though most will probably wish for a bit more Henry as I did.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 3.5/5
Publisher Mantle 
Length 437 pages
Format trade paperbak
Book Series #22 in the alphabet series.
Source I bought it
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