By Sue Grafton
Review by Ben Gierhart
Entire contents copyright © 2015 by Ben Gierhart. All rights reserved.
Louisville’s own Sue Grafton truly ranks as one of the greatest and inarguably most prolific mystery writers of modern times. Beginning with A is for Alibi in 1982, the Kinsey Millhone mysteries have been a pop culture mainstay for over three decades, referenced in such various and sundry places as episodes of The Sopranos, The Office, and Gilmore Girls as well as in Stieg Larson’s own enduring hit, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Kinsey Millhone has become such an iconic character in the genre that other writers of gumshoe tales have given her cameos in their works. X, the latest volume in Grafton’s alphabet-inspired mystery series serves as the 24th entry, and there are no signs of diminishing quality.
The finish line for the series is in sight, and Grafton wastes no time. Things begin at break-neck speed, with Kinsey juggling multiple cases. In the first, she is approached by a wealthy woman named Hallie Battencourt to find her son, Christian Satterfield, who has just been released from prison. The case is presented to Kinsey as hassle-free, but as anyone who is an experienced mystery reader knows, that proves to be far from the truth. Concurrently, Kinsey is also approached by a friend to look through a box of papers that belonged to her deceased husband Pete Wolinsky. Pete is an old colleague of Kinsey’s, and her nagging thoughts that he might not be all he claimed to be come to the surface as this case develops. A third case involves Kinsey’s landlord Henry Pitts’ new neighbors, Joseph and Edna. Something seems to be amiss. They are retired elderly people yet there is something sinister about them.
The plot is familiar but, thankfully, dense enough to occupy the most studied reader. Character cameos abound as Grafton skillfully manages to stuff in nearly every fan favorite, and the character of Kinsey remains as vibrant and dynamic as ever, her various quirks, personality, and uncanny skills maintaining her position as one of the greatest detectives ever written. There is a strong sense of continuity in this novel as well. No spoilers here, but the events of W is for Wasted are profoundly and appropriately felt here.
All in all, X marks the spot for a writer still at the top of her game. One could argue that keeping the series set in the 1980’s seriously dates it to the point of alienating younger readers, but a modicum of respect must be paid to a writer refusing to update her character to the literary trends of superficial inclusion of cell phones and social media use. The series is undeniably period now, but therein lies one of its strengths. Kinsey is a creation of another time, and that is, for now, where she should remain. The pressure is high. Grafton has a mere two books with which to end her landmark series, but if X is any indication, there is absolutely no need to worry.
Ben Gierhart is a local actor, playwright, and director who has worked with several companies in town including The Bard’s Town, Pandora Productions, Savage Rose, and Centerstage. Ben serves on the board and in the acting ensemble for The Bard’s Town Theatre, and he is also a founding member of the Derby City Playwrights, a collective dedicated to creating new and exciting plays in Louisville.