Wednesday, May 6, 2015

"G" is for Gumshoe: Sue Grafton

The following lines are the beginning of "G" is for Gumshoe:
Three things occurred on or about May 5, which is not only Cinco de Mayo in California, but Happy Birthday to me. Aside from the fact that I turned thirty-three (after what seemed like an interminable twelve months of being thirty-two), the following also came to pass:
1. The reconstruction of my apartment was completed and I moved back in.
2. I was hired by a Mrs. Clyde Gersh to bring her mother back from the Mojave desert.
3. I made one of the top slots on Tyrone Patty's hit list.
I report these events not necessarily in the order of importance, but in the order most easily explained.
So there we have the story. Kinsey Millhone is a private detective hired to find a missing woman who has been living in a trailer in Slab City, a site used by RV owners and squatters At the same time, she gets a call from an attorney with the public defender's office in Carson City, Nevada. He informs her that a man that they put in jail has a contract out on both of them. Kinsey heads off to locate the missing woman, who is found in a care facility. After arranging to have the woman returned to Santa Teresa, she is attacked by the hit man on her return trip. Soon after that, she hires Robert Dietz, a PI that she has worked with (long distance) in the past, as her bodyguard.

The two stories intertwine, not related to each other, but each one impinging on the other. The main characters are interesting and realistic. My only complaint was that the plot seemed very complex and leaned toward the unbelievable. Nevertheless, overall it was an interesting read. Based on this book, the Kinsey Milhone series is clearly decent mystery writing, but not for everyone, I am sure. If I continue reading the series, it will be for the glimpses of Santa Barbara and the setting of the 1980s. The series was started in that decade, and as of the last published book, "W" is for Wasted, Kinsey has not left that decade.

Moira at Clothes in Books recently blogged about "U" is for Undertow, a much later book in the series. I commented that, since I live in the area the book is set in, I should read more of the series. Back in the 1980s I read at least the books for letters A through E and possibly F, and I have had this omnibus including G, H, and I on my shelves for a while.

Kinsey lives in Santa Teresa, and she chose that name for the city to honor Ross Macdonald, who used that city in some of his books also. In both cases, Santa Teresa is a fictionalized version of Santa Barbara, California. To be honest, I am geographically challenged, and cannot even find my way around beautiful downtown Santa Barbara alone, so the locations mentioned did not remind me of any place specifically. She does mention Colgate and Montebello, which correspond to areas outside of Santa Barbara called Goleta and Montecito. (Grafton lives part of the year in Montecito). There are numerous scenes at the Edgewater Hotel, which corresponds to the Santa Barbara Biltmore. But I would not have recognized the hotel without some research. I don't spend a lot of time in luxury hotels.

What did strike me is her description of my favorite part of the Santa Barbara area... the weather.
May and June, in Santa Teresa, are often masked by fog—the weather as blank and dreary as the white noise on a TV set when the broadcast day is done.
You can tell that she doesn't like the fog, and that is the general opinion of most residents of the region. But there are a few of us around who revel in the May Gray and June Gloom, who love the cool days and overcast skies.

Another scene:
The marine layer was already beginning to dissipate, but the yard had that bleached look that a mist imparts. The foghorn was bleating intermittently—a calf separated from its mother—in the still morning air. The strong scent of seawater saturated the yard. Sometimes I half expect the surf to be lapping at the curb out front.
With the novel opening on Cinco de Mayo, I wanted to publish my review on May 5th, but that did not work out. On Cinco de Mayo in Santa Barbara this year, we had a full day of overcast skies and chilly weather. Today, May 6th, the fog was there in the morning but rolled out by mid-afternoon. A lovely beginning to the week.

Unrelated to the setting geographically but fitting in with the time frame, my favorite part was the Betsy Wetsy comment:
Why does everybody assume women are so nurturing? My maternal instincts were extinguished by my Betsy Wetsy doll. Every time she peed in her little flannel didies, I could feel my temper climb. I quit feeding her and that cured it, but it did make me wonder, even at the age of six, how suited I was for motherhood.
If you are not familiar with the Betsy Wetsy doll, see this post. I thought maybe the timing (when Kinsey would have had such a doll) was wrong, but it was available from the 1930s to the 1980s. I had a Betsy Wetsy doll, or my sister did. Hard to remember now.


Publisher:   Omnibus ed. published by Wings Books, 2002 (orig. pub. 1990)
Length:       260 pages
Format:       Hardcover collection
Series:        Kinsey Millhone, #7
Setting:       Southern California
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       I purchased this book.


Bill Selnes said...

TracyK: I have read A through V and expect to read W shortly. I have enjoyed the series though not as much of the books after P. What sticks in my mind are Kinsey's relationships with her landlord, Henry, and the neighbourhood restaurant owner/cook, Rosie. I am also envious of a climate that seems always summer compared to Saskatchewan.

TracyK said...

Bill, I will be reading more of Grafton's books in this series and picking up on the friendships she has. I do remember the developing relationship with the landlord from the earlier books.

One reason I hope to always live in Santa Barbara is the wonderful weather. This year we did not have much of a winter at all. That is not always true, but it is often pretty mild here. And hardly ever very hot here in the summer either.

col2910 said...

You have me interested in digging out B sometime soon now.

Anonymous said...

Glad you enjoyed this, Tracy. It's interesting, I think, how some stories can push the limits of credibility and still really draw people in. Grafton certainly can do that.

Sandra said...

I became a Kinsey fan right with the first book and have managed to read to V now. I really enjoyed reading your review. The opening lines directly brought me back to the case. It's really interesting to see the setting through the eyes of someone who lives there. I hope to read more of your reviews as you move on in the alphabet.

Clothes In Books said...

I'm up and down with the books, as you know, but I LOVED reading your local notes on this one, it made Kinsey's Santa Teresa seem very real - thanks!

TracyK said...

The protagonist is definitely interesting, Col. Independent and tough, but the story is about real life events in an investigator's life too.

TracyK said...

That's true, Margot. If the story draws me in then I don't spend a lot of time thinking about the credibility. I like the way Grafton approached this story, so it worked for me.

TracyK said...

Sandra, I sort of wish I had kept up with the books. I did stop reading mysteries (or any fiction) for several years in the 1990s, so maybe that had something to do with leaving this series behind.

TracyK said...

Moira, I am eager to try another one and see how it compares, both in depictions of Santa Barbara and in plot / characters. But you know how it is, so many books already in line to be read.

Anonymous said...

I don't know which books I've read and which I haven't, although I have read five or six of the most recent ones, with varying reactions. I do know that I can sink into one of Kinsey's adventures and be distracted for a weekend. But increasingly, I don't agree with her viewpoints and also found myself incredulous in the latest one I read with a major criminal as one character.

I'm also rather aghast at the fact that Kinsey never ages. For decades she's been the same age. At least V.I. Warshawski ages, and in her early 50s, she's as smart, feisty and independent as ever, even endangering herself in fights -- but she defends herself well.

I will probably read more of Kinsey's adventures. I'm snowed under by a book epidemic around here, but if I ever have time, I'll read more of the alphabet series, as they are relaxing.

TracyK said...

Kathy, I can't decide if I like the characters to age or not. Nero Wolfe and Archie did not, but they are the only other example I can think of.

Thanks for reminding me I have got to get to the V.I. Warshawski series. I am sure I read some of them years ago, but since I cannot remember anything, I will start from the beginning.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Been ages since I tried this series TracyK (which really means decades - gulp) - thanks.

Rick Robinson said...

The last one of these I took off the shelf to read sat with a bookmark in it at the 30 page mark for months until I put it back. I don't remember which one it was now, but it may have been "I", since I'm sure I read A - H as they came out.

That Wetsy doll sounds dreadful.

TracyK said...

Grafton definitely writes a good story, Sergio, but there are so many books and series to keep up with.

TracyK said...

Richard, it amazes me that the doll lasted so long. Not that there was anything wrong with it, but seems like the gimmick would have gotten less popular. Apparently not.

Anonymous said...

I love Sue Grafton but haven't read her latest. She's a writer I discovered in my twenties and Kinsey was a big inspiration for me.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Tracy, I haven't read anything by Grafton. In fact, I heard of her alphabet novels only after I started blogging.

Anonymous said...

Never tried her. I'm sure if I ever will, honestly. Only time will tell.

TracyK said...

I always knew the series was set in a version of Santa Barbara, but when I first read the books, I was new to the area. It is interesting to see now how she really does use that area and all of Southern California.

TracyK said...

If you ever run into any of them, Prashant, you should give them a try. I think you would find them interesting.

TracyK said...

We cannot read all of the authors, Keishon. I don't know if you would like Grafton's books, but she portrays the protagonist as a strong female in a realistic way. At least in this book.

Anonymous said...

I should make an effort anyway. Thanks Tracy.