Review: Y IS FOR YESTERDAY by Sue Grafton

I have to give Sue Grafton kudos for having a plan and seeing it through over the course of 30 odd years. Top marks for follow-through. But these days I’m half-wishing she’d failed. Because then I wouldn’t find myself wading through books I no longer have much interest in. I’m at the point where reading them feels like more of a duty than a joy but being this close to the end I  am compelled to finish. The 25th installment of private investigator Kinsey Millhone’s adventures is…well…long. And not very mysterious. And morally questionable. And did I mention the length?

The main story centres on a group of self-absorbed teenagers who morph into a group of self-absorbed young adults. In 1979 the teens attended a private school and were part of a cheating scandal, a brutal rape masquerading as some kind of ‘joke’ and a murder. Ten years later – in Kinsey’s ‘present day’ – one of the boys who admitted to the murder has been released from prison (having been tried as a juvenile he had to be released at the age of 25). As soon as Fritz McCabe is free his wealthy parents receive a demand for $25,000 and a copy of a tape which depicts their son and another boy repeatedly raping a girl they know while another of their friends holds the camera and a fourth acts as director. The McCabes hire Kinsey to track down the extortionist before the tape is sent to authorities. This mess gets a fairly unsatisfactory resolution but only after a lot of meandering.

The part I found morally questionably was that I could only imagine the events described on the 4 minutes of tape and my stomach was churning (it’s a lot more graphic than this series generally is). The fact that no character who watched it seemed terribly bothered by what it depicted make my skin crawl. I suppose I can buy that Fritz’ parents would put the needs of their son over the possible brutal assault he engaged in, but what’s Kinsey’s excuse? The whole ‘private investigator’s code of ethics’ thing doesn’t really do it for me I’m afraid. It didn’t help that every time some new person watched the tape or remembered their part in its recording the horrible events were described again in graphic detail and I was reminded that everyone seemed more worried by the extortion than the rape.

In addition to all of this Kinsey is being stalked by a killer who featured in this novel’s predecessor which provides an opportunity for the book to be a lot longer than it needs to be. For example a swag of time is devoted to the killer’s ex-wife – who is living somewhere in the US under an assumed name – bringing some damning evidence to Santa Theresa and all I could think was that all the faffing about with speeding and traffic snarls and airport parking could have been avoided if the police met her at the airport as any sensible person would have suggested. Other elements that add word count rather than plot advancement include the constant repetition of the central story from viewpoints that are only marginally different from each other and some nonsense about homeless people camping in Henry’s backyard.

I have long thought that Grafton backed herself into a corner by choosing to restrain herself in time with the series and each installment only adds to my conviction. By the time we get to the traditional epilogue of Y IS FOR YESTERDAY Kinsey has limped (metaphorically) into 1990 which means that the 25 tales of her cases have spanned eight years. The result is that there’s precious little time for genuine character development, though Kinsey’s loner lifestyle has been given a bit of a nudge recently with the discovery of previously unknown extended family who continue to play a role here. But the time factor has meant, for me at least, an increasing disconnect with the books. I was around 16 when I first read A IS FOR ALIBI and Kinsey was 30. I liked the depiction of a self-motivated young woman tackling life on her own terms. Now, when I am about to turn 50 and Kinsey is 38 it feels like she has nothing much of interest to say to me. To be fair to Grafton I think I’ve changed more than the series as these days I am far more interested in why people do the things they do whereas Kinsey’s stories have always been about what has happened and who did it. The ‘why’ has always been handled in a fairly perfunctory way, as it was again here.

I can’t help but wonder if this series would have found a more natural end if Grafton hadn’t been so bold as to propose 26 installments from the get-go. Which brings me back to my admiration for Grafton’s early vision and ability to bring it to fruition. I know there are series with more than 26 titles but I can’t think of another author who publically announced at the beginning of their career how many books they planned to write. And then did it. You go girl.

So despite my misgivings I’ll be back for the end which the internet tells me is to be called Zero and will be released in 2019. That sounds a bit dull to me so I shall ponder the possibility that the internet might be wrong and Z will stand for Zealot and we will meet present-day Kinsey on the trail of the murderous cult leader who held her captive in northern California since the early 90’s.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Judy Kaye
Publisher Random House Audio [2017]
ASIN B06XP2VQ9Z
Length 17 hours 11 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #25 in the Kinsey Millhone series
Source of review copy I bought it

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13 Responses to Review: Y IS FOR YESTERDAY by Sue Grafton

  1. You know, Bernadette, I think that filmed rape would be enough to put me off entirely. I can see how you felt, too, about the length and the sub-plots. I think it’s really hard to sustain a series over 26 books; so on that score, I give Grafton credit, too. Not sure I’ll make it to the end, though…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mardith says:

    I gave up on her once I started listening instead of reading. It makes a huge difference becuase you can’t ignore the mundane writing and can’t skip over. Easier to read her than to listen. So I stopped. There are too many very good books in the world to spend time on those that aren’t.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That makes perfect sense and I would have too but for the fact I feel compelled to see this series through to the end. It was one of the first adult series I ever started and even though I’ve matured a lot more than Kinsey has I just can’t seem to stop…I did fall behind for a while but now I’m resigned to it being what it is. I do agree that with audio books it is more difficult to avoid the annoying bits but as I tend to listen when I can’t otherwise read (long drives, housework etc) I prefer even a boring book to the radio 🙂

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  3. kathy d. says:

    I also feel compelled to see Kinsey through to the end of her alphabetical journey. But reading your review makes me think twice.
    I began reading Grafton’s series along with Marcia Muller’s and Sara Paretsky’s when they came out. I dropped Kinsey after awhile, kept up with Sharon McCone for a bit longer, and stayed loyal to V.I. Warshawski from start until today and will keep reading of her exploits. Those books are like chocolates to me; I enjoy every morsel.
    Somewhere along the line, I got annoyed with Kinsey’s political views about crime and the criminal justice system, a real cynicism about people, including the poor. And I think pro-gun.
    So I dropped her, and then picked up a book or two after that when I needed a light read.
    So, here we are, near “Zero,” and I’ll see if I feel compelled to travel with Kinsey to the end.
    I wish she had aged as V.I. has; she is in her 60s and can still wrangle with the best of them,
    sass back cops and military officials, outsmart villains and remain independent — and witty.
    And a for the rape scene and its repetition, that would turn me right off. I’d have to skip over it.
    And I don’t understand parents who defend their kids’ worst behavior. I mean — rape? There are limits. And to read of this over and over, not good. Maybe Grafton needed to fill pages and had run out of ideas.
    The jur is out on whether or not I’ll read this book. The topic turns me off.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You know I have never read a Marcia Muller book…though people often mention them in the same discussions as Grafton and Paretsky as you have done. My local library must not have had them back in the 80’s which is when I got hooked on Kinsey and V.I.

      You could probably skip this one and go straight to Zero if you want…I don’t think you’ll miss much and really I do think the way the assault is handled by a whole spectrum of characters is likely to make you angrier than a “light read” should do. I kept thinking that someone would grow a conscience so I kept listening but no one did.

      I need a happy medium between Kinesy’s complete lack of political/moral compass and V.I. Warshawski’s over-the-top (to me) politics 🙂

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  4. kathy d. says:

    Errata: V.I. is in her 50’s, not 60’s.
    And “The jury is still out…”

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  5. kathy d. says:

    As you know, I don’t mind V.I.’s politics. I don’t like long political lectures in books, even when I agree with them, but I think Sara Paretsky is balanced with character, plot, and politics. But to each her own.

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  6. suzigun says:

    I’m stuck at about L and have wondered about picking them up again. The one thing I do remember is how short they were!

    Liked by 1 person

    • They have definitely gotten A LOT longer. I think you could probably find better things to do with your life than pick up again from the middle point of the series – from my perspective there’s only been one really great installment since then (U). Some of the rest have been enjoyable but not particularly memorable and some – like this last one – just not very good.

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  7. I started reading her in the late 1980s and enjoyed her first few books though even at under 300 pages felt she padded too much with descriptive material (some might like that sort of thing, but all the architectural detail and the like got tedious). Less is more.

    I don’t think the books were advanced by adding over a hundred more pages of length. And, I really wasn’t too interested in the whole family being found stuff. At some point, that ruins the more fun loner stuff. Her tossing in twists like using other points of view didn’t really work for me either but more power to her for trying things out. I was really annoyed at a bit of good fortune she received in a recent book. Think it hurt her cred. I simply skimmed the last couple.

    I don’t think her restraint in reducing the plot to a basic eight year span is too problematic though not really sure how necessarily it is to be totally loyal (she after all played around with time and narrator) to that. That’s enough to have room to play with. My biggest complaint really is how much she padded the later books. Less is more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The “bit of good fortune” was really odd…especially the way Kinsey has chosen to deal with it. Every time it is mentioned my teeth grate and I wonder what the point was of adding it to the mix.

      I definitely agree though that the books’ worst problem is their length.

      But I’ll still read Z 😀

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    • H.C. says:

      I don’t so much mind the descriptive details (I think it adds dimension to the setting & characters, as well as giving readers insight into Kinsey’s own filtered lenses) but the perspective shifts & time skips threw me off too, esp when I started reading “Y” in spurts and have to re-orient myself every time I pick up the book again (before deciding to make it easier on myself and binge-read the 2nd half in one sitting; I think she deployed this more effectively in “T” but I appreciate the effort in this one.

      Liked by 1 person

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