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 
Length 17 hours 11 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #25 in the Kinsey Millhone series
Source of review copy I bought it