Sue Grafton

Kinsey Millhone - Female Gumshoe, Santa Teresa, California in the 1980s


"T is for Trespass "

(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky JAN 16, 2008)

The year is 1987, and little has changed in Kinsey Millhone's life. She still works as a PI in Santa Teresa, California, has a modest office in a bungalow, rents an apartment from her eighty-seven year old landlord, Henry Pitts, and has a weakness for greasy and calorie-laden fast food. Alas, Cheney, a cop whom she had been seeing for a while, is no longer in the picture. For years, Kinsey has made a minimal living as a private investigator and a process server. Serving papers can be dangerous, especially when someone resents being slapped with, say, an order of protection forbidding him from stalking, abusing, and threatening his wife. One day, she asks Lonnie, her attorney, about someone he wants served with such an order, "How dangerous is this guy?" Lonnie answers, "Not that bad unless he's drinking. Then, anything can set him off." Undoubtedly, Kinsey would be safer toiling in a quiet office from nine-to-five, and she would be drawing a regular salary to boot. However, she is a bit of a loner, fiercely independent, and not overly materialistic, so she chooses to avoid the conventional white collar grind.

Sue Grafton's  T is for Trespass,  refers to "a violation of moral law; an offense; a sin." In this case, the trespasser, Solana Rojas, is a con artist who has a thirty-five year old developmentally disabled, obese, and emotionally disturbed son named Tomasso. She is a bitter person who believes that "nothing had ever gone right for her. She lives from paycheck to paycheck with nothing set aside and no way to get ahead." She would prefer making money quickly and dishonestly, if possible, rather than struggling to make ends meet. Since Solana is a chameleon and a sociopath, who "operated as a creature apart, without empathy," she decides that her ticket to success will be identity theft. In fact, the name Solana Rojas is not really hers; it is one of the identities that she has assumed over the years.

The real Solana is a certified Licensed Vocational Nurse. Since the fake Solana is a dropout, she can work under her own name only as a lowly nurse's aide. She decides to adopt the identity of a certified nurse and wangles jobs caring for elderly people of means with few family ties. After ascertaining her victims' net worth, she finds a way to separate them from their worldly goods before dispatching them. Her latest mark is an eighty-nine year old acquaintance of Kinsey named Gus Vronsky. He is the "neighborhood crank," an irascible fellow who is constantly complaining, yelling, calling the police, and making a nuisance of himself. After Gus has a bad fall, he is hospitalized, and his great-niece, Melanie, flies in from New York and hires someone to look after him. Too bad that the woman she hires is the imposter who calls herself Solana Rojas. In short order, the "nurse" appraises her client's paintings and searches his house for jewelry and other assets. She keeps Gus sedated and quickly has him under her control. He could very well be her ticket to easy street.

Trespass is Grafton's timeliest and most believable work in years. The descriptive writing and dialogue are sharp and the beautifully drawn cast of characters include: a mellower Kinsey, who suspects that Solana is up to no good but initially underestimates the woman's shrewdness and determination; Solana, a villainess whom we detest, yet at the same time, we understand that she is a product of her dysfunctional childhood and warped psyche; and Henry, a gentleman who enjoys baking and fussing over Kinsey. Henry is dating again, but he has doubts about his lady friend, Charlotte Snyder, who is irritatingly obsessed with real estate. The grumpy Gus Vronsky is not very likeable, but even he does not deserve the fate that his caretaker has in store for him. Fortunately, Kinsey has a few tricks up her sleeve, and she will do whatever she can to rescue Gus from his predator's clutches.

As men and women age, they start to think about what lies ahead during their "golden years." Naturally, everyone hopes to function without assistance for a very long time, but what about those who can no longer fend for themselves? Too often, children and other relatives live far away and are preoccupied with their own concerns. In desperation, they may place their trust in individuals whom they barely know. As Sue Grafton graphically demonstrates, there are opportunists in this world who regard the sick and aging as easy targets.

Grafton's lively prose flows quickly and smoothly. The subplots that deal with some of Kinsey's other cases are absorbing and well integrated into the overall narrative. Once again, we see that the best writers do not depend on glitz, artificial excitement, or silly plot twists to capture our attention. Instead, they create intriguing and three-dimensional characters as well as a thematic story that tackles universal issues in a fresh and satisfying manner. In spite of all the horrors that she has witnessed, Kinsey remains optimistic: "I prefer to focus on the best in human nature: compassion, generosity, a willingness to come to the aid of those in need." T is for Trespass is an entertaining and thought-provoking mystery that ranks with the best of Sue Grafton.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 327 reviews
(back to top)

"R is for Ricochet"

(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer OCT 12, 2004)

Kinsey Millhone has seen her share of tough cases, but this one, about “love gone right, love gone wrong, and matters somewhere in between” may be her hardest yet, simply because matters dealing with the heart never work out cleanly.

Reba Lafferty is the only child of a wealthy and doting father, Nord, who didn’t have Reba until he was in his fifties. She's committed some foolish mistakes; the latest seemingly fueled by an addiction to gambling and drinking that has landed her into some serious trouble. But Nord, thanks to advice of his then girlfriend, decided to let her face the music of her last offense -- embezzling money from the company she worked for -- alone. It landed her in jail. About to be paroled, Nord wants Kinsey to help Reba settle back into life, keep appointments with her parole officer and make the AA meetings. He's willing to pay Kinsey full price and she goes for it. She and Reba actually hit it off...Reba thinks Kinsey’s a boringly good girl, and Kinsey thinks Reba’s a little too wild for her own good, but they become friends. When Kinsey realizes that Reba’s having an affaire with her handsome ex-boss Alan Beckwith (Beck) she starts to wonder the real reason Reba went to jail. Her fears are confirmed when Cheney Phillips visits her. He wants her to convince Reba to turn witness for the FBI, and help Beck get sent to jail. Kinsey knows that Reba’s totally in love and will stand by her man...but what will she do when she sees the photographs proving that he’s replaced her?

So, the book’s about romance...the romance gone wrong is easy, but another romance gone wrong could be the budding love between Henry, Kinsey’s absolutely adorable 70-something landlord, and a lady he met on the cruise. His prying hypochondriac of a brother, William, seems to think he needs prodding, but Kinsey isn’t so sure. And what about the budding romance between the handsome Cheney, who’s no longer married? Reba...and Kinsey’s...shenanigans might put more of a strain on the new relationship than it can bear.

Over the past several years we’ve seen Kinsey develop, and there’s a real feel for that in this book. She’s really changed even though only a few years have passed. One of the things I always find remarkable about this series is how Kinsey grows -- she learns from her past cases -- while the series stays in the 80’s. Kinsey’s not going to suddenly whip out a cell phone -- and at the pace this series is going, I doubt she ever will. (Unless, of course, we get into the double letters, which I wouldn’t mind at all.) True, a couple times in this book Kinsey did things that I would have gladly shook her for, but you know, in some ways I think she acted out of another form of love...friendship. Reba, who is funny and reckless, really makes a connection to Kinsey.

The story also takes on a different twist...usually a detective novel starts with or is framed around murder. This one has almost none of that...there might be someone who gets killed (hey, I’m trying to avoid spoilers) but it’s not in the first half of the book. It’s not Kinsey’s motivator for solving the case. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of action...Beck’s plans are devious, indeed, but then, so are Reba’s.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 196 reviews

 

(back to top)

"O Is for Outlaw"

  (Reviewed by Judi Clark SEP 25, 1999)

For gumshoe Kinsey Millhone, the year is May 1986 and she has just turned 36 years old. Sue Grafton explains prior to the novel's start that for Kinsey, time moves slower, but at no fault of her own. Grafton says that A is for Alibi began in May 1982, B is for Burglar takes place in June 1982, and C is for Corpse is in August 1982 and so on bringing us to May 1986.

In this novel, Kinsey Millhone receives a phone call from a stranger, claiming he has a box salvaged from storage with her mementos in it. Curious, she agrees to meet him and buys the box for a bargain $20. It turns out that the box was put away by her first ex-husband, Mickey Magruder, whom she suddenly walked out on after a very brief marriage and has not spoken to in fourteen years. The contents of the box give the impression that he just walked around and threw her things in, including a stack of mail from the day after she left. Within the stack is a letter addressed to her from a woman who says she is his alibi for the four unaccounted hours, which means Magruder could not have murdered Benny Quintero after all. Kinsey realizes that it is unlike Magruder to let a bill go unpaid, so she assumes that something must be wrong. She also feels that she owes him one, after all, it is partly because she would not lie for him that he was forced to leave the Police Department and a life style that he loved. And so Kinsey sets off on an adventure that takes her and us into the past.

I'm being careful not to say too much about the story line, as I am ready to rattle off the whole book. On the other hand, nothing I say could completely ruin it since Kinsey Millhone's attitude and antics are half the fun. She's a wise-cracking, ex-cop with complete respect for the law, but slips when it comes to actual law-abiding actions. Grafton has crafted Kinsey's character in the style of a true hard-boiled detective laced with a good dose of humorous self-deprecation.

Sue Grafton (or should I say Kinsey Millhone) has a large following and I believe there is much anticipation for this new one. I am lucky that I received an advance copy, but I'm at a disadvantage because I really can't compare it. I read E is for Evidence a few years ago, enjoyed it, and since I begin this site, I have been meaning to pick up another. Reading O is for Outlaw has been like meeting up with an old acquaintance - one that feels so comfortable in the present, that I have no idea why we weren't friends in the past, but now that we've met up, I don't want to lose touch again. I'm just lucky that she isn't at the end of the alphabet now that I'm back into this series.

  • Amazon reader rating: from 200 reviews

A conversation with Sue Grafton about O is for Outlaw at MostlyFiction.com

(back to top)

"J is for Judgment "

(Reviewed by Kam Aures JAN 12, 2003)

Sue Grafton once again takes us into the ever-exciting life of Private Investigator Kinsey Millhone in J is for Judgment. Kinsey, recently fired from CF Insurance, is called on once again by Mac who supervised most of her work with the company to follow a lead regarding a possible fraudulent life insurance claim. The case involves Wendell Jaffe, a man who has been dead for the past five years, or so everyone, including CF Insurance was led to believe. Then, Jaffe's former insurance agent sights Jaffe in Mexico. Kinsey is called on to travel down to Mexico to find out the truth.

Soon after flying down to Mexico, Kinsey spots Jaffe and a woman named Renata. Shortly afterward, Jaffe and Renata flee in the middle of the night and Kinsey, by stealing their garbage, finds a newspaper and sees that Jaffe's youngest son is in trouble with the law. Assuming that Jaffe returned to California to assist his son, Kinsey books a flight back and the trail picks up there. In her search for Jaffe, one of her neighborhood canvasses leads her to delve into her own unknown past. Her action-packed escapades with Jaffe's relations, neighbors, police and her own relatives, along with the twists and turns of the storyline will keep your attention riveted until the last page.

As with previous Kinsey Millhone novels, this one is full of outrageous Kinsey antics. From acting like a hooker to breaking and entering, Grafton does not disappoint. Some of the visuals are so comical that they will have you laughing out loud!

  • Amazon readers rating: from 23 reviews


(back to top)

Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Other books:

  • Keziah Dane (1967)
  • Lolly-Madonna War (1969)

Related Books:

 

(back to top)

Book Marks:

 

(back to top)

About the Author:

Sue GraftonSue Taylor Grafton was born in 1940 in Louisville, Kentucky. Both of Sue's parents were raised in China by Presbyterian Missionary parents. Her father, Cornelius Warren Grafton, was educated at the Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina and was a practicing attorney in Louisville with a specialty in municipal bonds. He also wrote fiction: The Rat Began to Gnaw the Rope, The Rope Began to Hang the Butcher, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt and My Name is Christopher Nagel. Her mother was educated at Radford State Teachers College with a degree in secondary education. She taught high school chemistry until she married in 1932.

Sue graduated in 1961 from the University of Louisville with a B.A.- a major in English Literature, minors in Humanities and Fine Arts. She married young, had a daughter and a son, divorced and married again and had a second daughter. In 1973 she moved out to Hollywood where she learned to write screenplays and television movies. She won a Christopher Award in 1979 for Walking Through the Fire and also wrote Sex and the Single Parent, Mark, I Love You and Nurse. It was while collaborating on a TV movie she met her third husband, Steven Humphrey. With him, she adapted two Agatha Christie novels Caribbean Mystery and Sparkling Cyanide and cowrote Killer in the Family and Love on the Run. She left Hollywood in 1989.

She began writing the Kinsey Millhone series while going through a very terrible divorce with her second husband. She claims she would lay in bed scheming of ways to do him in and decided it would better to write about it. From the start her novels have attracted attention. She won the Shamus Award in 1986 for B is for Burglar, in 1991 for G is for Gumshoe, and in 1995 for K is for Killer.

She has been married to Steven Humphrey for over twenty years and has two grandchildren. Sue spends part of the year in Louisville, Kentucky and the rest in Montecito, California. She hopes to complete the alphabet series by 2015. (If Kinsey Millhone remains in her present time warp, for her it will only be August 1989...)

MostlyFiction.com About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014 MostlyFiction.com