Not your usual alphabet book...

Not your usual alphabet book…

“My name is Kinsey Millhone”.

Sue Grafton, like Toby Litt just a few posts ago, writes books with titles in alphabetical order, although with Grafton they are much more obviously so. I’ve seen her books around for years, their covers distinctive and the sheer number of them (she’s up to W now) means they catch your eye in bookstores. However, I bought this copy second hand from the outdoor book shop on Southbank in London, curious to see how the writing pans out.

The detective here is Kinsey Millhone, an unusually-named, twice-divorced private investigator who is hired by Nikki Fife to investigate her husband’s murder. However, the murder was eight years ago and Nikki was jailed for it, having just been freed and determined to prove her innocence. She appeared to be the most likely candidate at the time, but it turns out that things may not have been as simple as all that.

Kinsey travels between Santa Teresa, Los Angeles and Las Vegas in her quest to find out what really happened to Laurence Fife all those years ago and whether Nikki is truly innocent, allowing her to meet new and interesting suspects like Laurence’s business partner Charlie, his ex-wife Gwen, his children Greg and Diane, and the family of a former colleague of his who died around the same time in very similar circumstances. Is that murder connected? Who is Sharon Napier and what does she know? Will Kinsey ever remember to eat? The evidence has been lying dormant for eight years – will a fresh rustle through it find some new answers?

All in all, I can’t say I was exactly impressed with the book. I’ve read better crime novels (although I’m at fault for always eventually comparing everyone to Christie, but no one simply did it better than her) and for much of the novel, the writing reads more like an emotionless police report, rather than anything juicy. There are, of course, brief insights into Kinsey’s inner thoughts, but mostly it reads like a simple account of events. “I did this. I did that. Then I did this.” A lot of that sort of thing. It has it’s place, certainly, and I suppose that in a detective novel it makes more sense than anywhere else, but it can get a bit repetitive and samey after a while.

Despite the writing style, however, I have little issue with the plot. The story kept me hooked and I was eager to find out who was responsible for the death, although I’d figured out some of the ending by about halfway through, although had begun to doubt myself because it seemed to obvious. I didn’t get the whole thing right, but enough to be underwhelmed by the ending. Kinsey is quite an interesting character, and I enjoy the peripheral characters in her life like her landlord Henry Pitts, obese hotelier Arlette and Con Dolan, the nastiest piece of work on the force, or at least portrayed as such. One very interesting character who didn’t get nearly enough page time was Colin, Nikki’s deaf son. He was a nice little invention and something a bit different, but the pages with him in are few and far between.

I don’t think I’ll be rushing out to continue the series, but maybe at some point I’ll pick it up and see what happened to Kinsey next.  If you like your gumshoes American, then this is perfect for you. I, however, prefer mine British or, at the very least, Belgian.

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