I recently finished all 25 of the Sue Grafton’s alphabet titled detective stories, starring the female detective Kinsey Milhone. After three years of reading almost nothing unrelated to my PhD – even the chick lit was read with an analytical mind and anything not related was read with latent guilt – reading something as innocuous as not one, not two, but two dozen detective stories was like a luxury that I had to keep pinching myself about. I had promised that I would not just read light stuff, but literary stuff – well that would happen anyway – but also academic stuff. Right now, though, I seem to be basking in the frivolous, if one can call crime that.
These are not the most ingeniously plotted narratives – I could guess what happened at the end of more than a few, especially as I went deeper into the series. There are long descriptions that one could just skip – what she saw and how she felt while running (I actually liked this because she seemed to describe my own sentiment while running so perfectly). More tedious are the detailed descriptions of Santa Teresa landmarks (initially I appreciate the sense of place, and then it wore on a bit too much) and worse the landscape and geography, but hey, she’s got to fill pages.
One part of the appeal are the characters – Kinsey, her neighbour Henry, the feisty restaurant owner Rosie and the other members of her surrogate family. There are slowly progressing plotlines such as Kinsey discovering more of her own family history and her relationships with men. As the series progresses, Grafton gets more experimental in her writing – nothing pomo, but I could see she was trying new things. From telling the story only from Kinsey’s perspective, she introduces multiple perspectives and also chronological leaps back and forth. I must say that I preferred the parts that focused on Kinsey, though in the very last book, I did like the multiple perspectives.
I believe Grafton had some biases. She described people’s body weight in detail, and often the fat ones didn’t turn out to be nice. Pearl in the last couple of books is an exception. I also recall that when there were gay people in the book, they ended up being baddies. Maybe I’m nitpicking, but hey I kind of almost have a doctorate in that.
Ultimately, the appeal of the detective genre – as opposed to crime thriller – is that despite the crime and the potential for mayhem, the world rights itself. The detective by solving the mystery restores order to the world. That is subliminal satisfaction of the genre. That is why I found it so comforting to read at a tumultuous time in my life.
[MILD SPOILERS ALERT]
If I had to pick a favourite, I’d say the Y book – though maybe because it’s most fresh in my mind, but I also liked the high school setting and drama. I liked the ending of the X book best. I loved the romance in the book in which she and Dietz get together.
Grafton died before she could finish the last Z book in the series, which is a shame. I believe she would have tied up some loose ends in that final book. By the Y book, Kinsey was financially secure. She had come to terms with, if not completely embraced, the idea of having some blood-relations. The chick lit enthusiast and auntyji in me of course wants to see her settled down. Because of the way Y was set up, I’d put my money on her landing up with Cheney. I wouldn’t have minding Dietz, but somehow I don’t think that would have happened. Actually, any of the three men in Kinsey’s life would be fine by me. I would also liked to see Henry get together with Pete Wolinsky’s widow Ruthie.