I don’t make a practice of reviewing mystery books that are part of a series. In many cases, to enjoy the book, it is important that you have read the previous books for context and understanding of the characters. This isn’t always true, and I have made exceptions in the case of particularly good stories.
Author Sue Grafton’s alphabet series (beginning with A is for Alibi through Y is for Yesterday) is familiar to mystery readers and probably many other kinds of readers as well. Sadly, Grafton passed away a couple of weeks ago from cancer. I was unaware that she had cancer and her death caught me by surprise, especially since I had recently completed her most recent offering, Y is for Yesterday, published in August 2017. So, despite it being part of a series, I am going to review the book in honor of private eye Kinsey Millhone and her creator, Sue Grafton.
Millhone lives in the fictional town of St. Theresa, California, supposedly modeled after Santa Barbara. She is single after two unsuccessful marriages, and is fiercely independent. She lives in a little bungalow next door to her best friend, an 80-something man named Henry. Constants in all of the books are Henry’s delicious cinnamon rolls, Millhone’s ever-present glass of Chardonnay, and dinner at the Hungarian restaurant down the street which, according to Millhone, serves terrible food. When the series began, it was 1982. As of Y is for Yesterday, it was 1989.
Unfortunately, though I think Y is for Yesterday was better than the past couple of books (V is for Vengeance and the book she called X, thereby answering the question I had since reading A is for Alibi as to what her X book would be called), I didn’t find it to be nearly as enjoyable as her earlier books.
As I mentioned, it is 1989. Kinsey is contacted by the parents of a young man recently released from prison, where he served a sentence related to the murder of a high school classmate. He and some of his buddies had filmed a violent rape (which they swore was consensual sex) and the death of the classmate was related to this tape. The parents had been contacted by someone demanding lots of money or they would release the tape to the public.
At the same time as this is happening, Kinsey realizes that the serial murderer who nearly killed Kinsey in the book X but escaped was back and looking for revenge.
As usual, Grafton’s characterizations of Millhone and her peeps are excellent. These are people with whom I would like to spend time. The story, too, was well executed. My major complaint is that there were times in the book that I wanted to yell out, “For crying out loud, Kinsey, you’re seriously going to go for a walk without taking your gun?” Given Kinsey’s history, it just didn’t ring true. I also felt the men involved in the rape and murder didn’t seem realistic. The serial killer, however, was fascinating and TERRIFYING.
If you have never heard of, or read, this series, start at the beginning. You will become friends with some worthwhile characters. And don’t look for Z is for Zero, because Grafton had apparently not written a word yet, and forbade her children to hire a ghostwriter to continue the series. She also nixed (and always has) a movie based on the books.
Sue Grafton, rest in peace.