Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Books: W is for Wasted

Sue Grafton continues to pull off an extremely difficult writing task. Grafton is the mastermind behind the “Alphabet” mystery series of detective novels (and a fellow Kentuckian, part-time at least). A is for Alibi debuted in 1982, starring that plucky P.I. Kinsey Millhone everyone loves to love. Since then, Grafton, and Kinsey, have worked their way through roughly 10,000 murders, 7000 shootings, 4000 knifings, several car accidents, one chair over the head and one large explosion. Through it all, Kinsey remains an attractive loner with no real family and a practical view of life. That is, leave people alone and they’ll leave you alone. It’s okay to be nosey and pushy as long as it’s in a good cause. And sometimes when it isn’t.

In W, Kinsey finds some new family and investigates the murder of a sleazy fellow P.I. in her California town of Santa Theresa. Raised by her single aunt after the wreck that killed her parents, Kinsey found that her mom and dad were estranged from her mother’s family. She has slowly been reuniting with them over the course of the series and it has been painful to watch—Kinsey is extremely insecure and doesn’t tend to play well with others. She doesn’t know her father’s family at all, which changes in this book when a homeless man’s body is found on the beach and turns out to be her paternal great-uncle. When she travels to a nearby town to let his family know he is dead, she meets several cousins she didn’t know she had. The sparks fly when she finds out they are a not a pleasant group, and she discovers yet another reason to avoid family reunions. As the novel progresses, the two cases overlap into one shattering mystery. Grafton does an outstanding job of balancing plot and character development, resulting in a fine story with characters that advance and grow. A tremendous read. All of the Alphabet novels are well worth your time, a truly enjoyable series.

A word about aging characters in a series. In any novel series that has been published for decades; Robert Parker’s Spencer series, Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole books, even the James Bond novels, writers usually just don’t mention the age of their characters. It’s sort of like comics, where Superman has been 34 for seventy years. They’re ageless. Grafton deals with this another way. There are only a few months at most between each of the Alphabet novels. Even though there have been 23 novels in the series since 1982, the latest book takes place around 1988. So no cell phones, no flat screen TVs, there are barely fax machines. Grafton believably keeps Kinsey in her 30s. It’s a unique way to deal with character aging and I find it a good choice for the stories she is telling.

Now that Grafton has only three letters of the alphabet left, I have to say if she stops with Z I’ll be majorly disappointed. After all, “AA” is for ... something, and she can just continue from there.

Rating: **** stars out of 5


  1. This series is also fantastic in the world of audio books.

  2. Funny you should say that--I've listened to the last two novels on audio and the narrator does a fantastic job! My favorite audio books right now are the Dresden Files. Narrator James Marsters (Spike from Buffy) gives a masterful performance.