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Tom Chaney: Sue Grafton at "T"
Of Writers and their Books: Sue Grafton at "T" is a review of Grafton's alphabet detective novel "T" is for Trespass. This column first appeared 10 February 2008
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: Mary James dishes it out
By Tom Chaney
Sue Grafton at "T"
Some time back I wrote about the Graftons, father and daughter. That was mostly based on my discovering C. W. Grafton, the father, for the first time.
I remarked that I was down to "S" in daughter Sue's alphabet and was waiting for "T".
T is for Trespass is out. I whiled away part of the long winter's drive to Minneapolis at Christmas time huddled in the back seat next to Kinsey Millhone, Grafton's California detective.
The arrival of "T" confirms my judgment about Grafton as a writer. Along about "L" I began to tire of Kinsey's diet of quarter pounders, the route of her jogging, and even the baking of Henry Pitts her octogenarian landlord. I told a friend that her next might well be called "M is for Mediocre."
Now there has been a distinct improvement -- either in Sue Grafton's prose or in my attitude.
I choose to think the change by "T" can be attributed mostly to Grafton's getting a sort of authorial second wind.
The reader needs to know some things about Kinsey Millhone. A is for Alibi was set in 1982. Kinsey drove a 1960 VW Beetle, talked on the telephone, kept her notes on, heaven forefend! 3"x5" cards. Some 25 years and 19 letters later, she is only up to 1988. Still no cell phone, no email, no internet.
Usually the reader is brought up to date on Kinsey in the first chapter. In "T" the opening is unusual. We are introduced in Chapter 1 to Solana Rojas, the major villain of the piece.
Solana has usurped the identity of a practical nurse with whom she worked and has set out to prey upon the elderly, cleaning out bank accounts as well as bedpans.
Kinsey and Henry have a disagreeable elderly neighbor, Gus, whose only relative is a niece living a continent away in New York City.
When Gus is hospitalized after a fall, the niece comes to arrange for his care, hiring Solana and engaging Kinsey to do a cursory background check. Kinsey fails to spot the flaws in Solana's resume.
Solana is expert at turning suspicion back on the suspicious, effectively isolating Gus. She then proceeds systematically to loot his modest savings, drugging him in the process.
In addition to treating the issue of those who prey on the elderly, Grafton deals with a couple of other issues. Hired to investigate a minor accident with a major claim, she unearths a skittish witness and a neighbor of one of the drivers to prove a case of insurance fraud.
Turns out the skittish witness who has been falsely and effectively labeled a child molester, has become adept at eluding the registration process as well as Kinsey.
Sue Grafton continues to chronicle the lives of Kinsey Millhone and her usual friends while drawing our focus to those who are "poised to take advantage of the vulnerable: the very young, the very old, and the innocent of any age."
Grafton's ability to handle the details of the three investigations including the way Kinsey interviews, her astute judgment of people, and her clever use of devices to get at the truth make us believe Kinsey.
Some of Grafton's readers (I'll not call them critics) bristle at what they see as the sameness of the character of Kinsey from "A" to "T". Another way to look at her is to see the evident but subtle growth in the character of Kinsey.
Grafton keeps making her world work. This is number twenty -- one every two years of late.
Thanks to the nature of fiction, Kinsey will not age -- will not have to use the internet -- will drive her 1970 Mustang -- plum down to "Z".
["U" is for Undertow was published in 2009, "V" is for Vengeance in 2011.]
Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney
This story was posted on 2013-02-10 04:10:46
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