Monday, December 19, 2011

V is for Vengeance

I just finished what must be Sue Grafton's 22nd outing in her alphabet series of mysteries featuring P.I. Kinsey Milhone. This one took me a little longer to read--partly because I had a lot of other things, like Christmas, going on but also because it was slow to draw me in. But once I got into it--and once Kinsey appeared on the scene, I was hooked as usual. This is a suspense novel in the classic sense--the reader knows the good guys and the bad guys--and what they're up to. It's just a question of when their paths will converge--and Grafton is a master at building complications and suspense. Just when you think there's no relation between this character and that, a small fact makes you realign your thinking. It's finger-nail-biting, read-into-the-night stuff.
Kinsey Milhone doesn't seem to change--if she ages, it's not obvious; she still eats at Rosie's and hangs out with Henry, her spry elderly neighbor who's a great cook. But in this volume Grafton creates some characters of real depth, like Pinky, the petty thief who can't seem to reform and can't seem to win at anything he tries. He's a loser but the reader soon feels Kinsey's concern and, yes, affection, for him. Perhaps the most interesting is the mastermind criminal Dante--don't call him a gangster because he resents that. But he's efficient, almost ruthless, and runs a huge smoothly operating resale business--as in reselling shoplifted and stolen goods. He's also charming, ethical in his own way, and an entirely sympathetic villain if there is such a thing. Dante is the kind of bad guy you find yourself rooting for.
The novel opens, as most suspense novels do, with a series of apparently unrelated scenes. Grafton soon links them, so that you sense what's going on. What bothered me was that I couldn't relate the first scene to the rest of the action until late in the novel--perhaps a more astute reader would pick up on it, but when I finally read what linked it to the plot, I'd almost forgotten that opening scene. Puzzled me a bit.
But Grafton remains a master of her craft. I think she and Kinsey will make it safely through the alphabet, and I look forward to the last letters--Z is for ?????

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