Written by Sue Grafton – V is for Vengeance is the 22nd of Sue Grafton’s very popular Kinsey Millhone novels. Millhone, a private investigator in fictional Santa Teresa (a stand-in for Santa Barbara), California, has entranced readers since Grafton wrote A is for Alibi in 1982. Time passes much more slowly in Millhone’s world than in Grafton’s. While Grafton is still writing Millhone’s adventures 30 years later, V is for Vengeance is set in 1988, and all of the intervening books are set between 1982 and 1988. Grafton is on record saying that the series will end with Z is for Zero, set in 1990 and coinciding with the fictional sleuth’s 40th birthday.
V is for Vengeance is set recently enough that it will not strain your imagination very much. Nonetheless, the year is important. At several points throughout Grafton’s narrative, you will wonder why the otherwise contemporary-sounding characters don’t just use their cell phones.
Kinsey Millhone is in a department store when the story begins. While shopping, she can’t help overseeing a woman trying to shoplift. Millhone reports to the woman to store security, which leads to the shoplifter’s arrest. Fairly straightforward – until the woman apparently commits suicide. Kinsey Millhone is certain that the woman, Audrey, is part of a shoplifting ring. Her keen PI instincts suspect foul play.
Audrey’s fiancé has a hard time believing that she is guilty of a criminal act, let alone suicide. So he hires Kinsey Millhone to investigate. Kinsey has her own suspicions, so she takes the retainer and begins to investigate Audrey’s life. Millhone finds that there was a great deal Audrey never shared with her fiancé. Audrey’s shoplifting is part of not only a criminal career, but also a much larger criminal network. But Audrey’s not the only person with secrets. Grafton gives us a whole raft of duplicitous characters. Kinsey Millhone must sort through them to get to the bottom of Audrey’s death – and to protect her own safety.
Sue Grafton’s alphabet series has been terrifically popular – not to mention ubiquitous – over the past 30 years. With each installment, the author has satisfied her fans. She has done so by keeping Millhone personable and accessible. Each Kinsey Millhone novel is not merely a mystery; the series is also a running story about Millhone’s romances, weight gain (or loss) and other personal aspects. Millhone’s landlord and his family make recurring appearances, as well.
There is obviously a market for this sort of storytelling, as Grafton’s long-running series attests. But this wide appeal comes at a price. V is for Vengeance and its predecessors are likely to disappoint those looking for hardboiled PI fiction. Millhone is a private detective, but the books are more likely to approximate Mitford-with-mobsters than Marlowe. Mercifully, Millhone only mentions her love of MacDonald’s Quarter Pounders with Cheese – often abbreviated to ‘QP with Cheese’ in previous novels – once in V is for Vengeance.
Grafton provides several intriguing plot twists near the end of the book, but we must read through a great deal of banality to get there. Kinsey is still narrating the superfluous exploits of secondary characters unconnected to the central plot. And none of the characters connected, however tenuously, to the mystery of Audrey’s death is very compelling. V is for Vengeance is a decent (if overlong) read, but there’s no need to read it if you’re not interested in checking in with series characters and seeing what they are doing now. The mystery is underwhelming and a decidedly softboiled sort of PI fiction.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars