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by Sue Grafton, read by Judy Kaye
Random House Audio, September 2013
Unabridged pages
ISBN: 0307704319

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Kinsey Millhone is one of the best-known private eyes in American fiction, and Sue Grafton has become an icon to her legion of fans. Kinsey—and some of the other regular characters Grafton has created, such as Henry, the PI's landlord—have become as become as familiar as our own neighbors. The annual appearance of the entries in this alphabetical series was something to set our literary calendar around. Though the last few novels have appeared less frequently and fans dread the approach of the letter "Z," there is still hope that Kinsey will stay on. Like Ruth Rendell's Inspector Wexford, good detectives rarely retire.

Kinsey's personality, rather than the crimes themselves, drives the series. She is a stubborn loner, who enjoys routine: a three-mile run every day and a glass of Chardonnay every night. She takes care of her neighbors and cares about her clients more than about the money, which is a good thing, as she is not making a great living.

In W IS FOR WASTED, a note with her name and number on it in the pocket of a dead homeless man found on Santa Teresa's beach in Southern California brings Kinsey to the morgue to identify someone she has never seen before. The note arouses Kinsey's interest in the John Doe because it is the only piece of information found on his body. Since paid work is scarce at the moment, Kinsey decides to look into the man's identity.

The search quickly introduces her to three homeless friends of the deceased: Felix, a young white man, probably a runaway; Dandy, an older black man with genteel manners; and Pearl, an embittered woman who considered Terrence, as the dead man was known, her special friend. The trio insists that Terrence had the key to a safe deposit box, as unlikely as that sounds. Kinsey locates the key and the box, only to discover that she is the dead man's cousin as well as his executor and sole heir.

Previous volumes have brought Kinsey, an orphan raised by an aunt, into contact with members of her mother's family, an experience that was not positive. Now Kinsey must consider Terence (R.T. Dace) and other members of her father's family in Bakersfield. Will they also turn out to be people she would prefer not to know? And what is the story behind a man who died homeless but who had a small fortune in savings?

Just as puzzling for the reader, how is it that Kinsey does not make an immediate connection between Dace and her father's family, though the last name is the same. This is not a common surname. Ruthless editors have disappeared, alas, and taken all verisimilitude with them. Be that as it may, in recent volumes, Kinsey is as much in search of her own familial identify as she is on a quest for answers to crimes.

A second investigation by a corrupt PI named Pete Wolinsky, is somewhat clumsily inserted in pieces into Kinsey's narrative. Yet, Pete's investigation takes place several months prior to the discovery of Terence's body. Of course, the two stories come together eventually, but they grate against one another.

Though Grafton mercifully spares the reader scenes in Rosie's Hungarian restaurant - "dive" is probably the more appropriate word - there are also, of course, new twists and turns in the lives of Rosie's hypochondriac husband, William, and his brother Henry. This volume's antics concern the acquisition of a cat. Much amazement is expressed at the doings of felines, such as the daily detritus of small animals these hunters are apt to leave as gifts on doorsteps. Ed the cat is sure to be a mainstay of the remaining volumes.

As usual, Judy Kaye has Kinsey and her coterie down to an art form. She can wring every drop of irony out of the dialog and plot. She also does an amazing portrayal of Felix, Dandy, and Pearl. It would be easy to leave them as types, but Kaye works hard to give them dimension. In many series such as Grafton's, the narrator becomes a true partner in the enterprise. It's easy to detect Kaye's emotional investment as well as her consummate skill in her performance.

Though W is not the high point of the Kinsey Millhone series, still, any visit with the perky PI is entertaining. Devotees will want to keep up on the latest goings on in Santa Teresa, and Grafton always provides enough background to clue in new arrivals in town. A couple of days in this Southern California beach town is the kind of relaxing diversion that this kind of novel is meant to be. Pour a glass of white wine and have a good listen.

§ An avid audiophile, Karla Jay is a retired professor of English and Women's & Gender Studies. She is a frequent contributor to this site.

Reviewed by Karla Jay, September 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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