Thirty years ago, I read this novel about feisty private detective, Kinsey Millhone, who lives and operates in the fictional town of Santa Teresa in California. At the time, the title caught my eye and the first page did the rest.
This was a different type of crime fiction, based around sharply drawn and engaging characters rather than serial killers and gruesome murders. While this places the novel at the cosier end of the market, there’s nothing sedate or routine about this story, which still packs plenty of grit, building to a tense, action packed climax as the hunter becomes the hunted.
Central to the story is Kinsey, who reveals a life and routines that go beyond the case she’s investigating, taking in lovable and eccentric friends and characters that become an integral part of the novels as the series progresses. Every person she interviews during her investigations is crisply and beautifully fleshed out. The locations, although fictional, come alive under the author’s eye for detail – along with plenty of sardonic social commentary from Kinsey.
It’s this commentary and the way Kinsey leads the reader through the case, often down blind alleys and on false trails, that adds an extra depth to the story. You’re with her as she investigates, sharing the clues, puzzling out the connections, always privy to her thoughts, and foibles. (And I must confess, at times I was a little confused about the identity of some of the characters/suspects were, but this could be down to my slow reading.)
The rich vein of humour, Kinsey’s dogged persistence, and her vulnerability, created a different kind of detective fiction at a time when police procedurals dominated the market. Kinsey went on to investigate and entertain for another 24 books before Sue Grafton’s sad death earlier this year.
So, did I enjoy the story as much as the first time all those years ago?
Having read all 25 novels, I knew what to expect, but the story still felt fresh. It had a unique tone and voice that I loved from the first sentence. And while it didn’t have the same impact on me second first time around, this was still an entertaining read that has stood the test of time.
I would recommend this series to anyone who enjoys beautifully crafted, character driven crime stories.
RIP Sue Grafton.