Monday, September 29, 2014

V is for Vengeance

Kinsey Milhone never thought that stocking up on panties at Nordstrom's would lead to someone breaking her nose on her 38th birthday, but V is for Vengeance leads her from the lingerie department to a corrective rhinoplasty.  As she's browsing the racks on an April afternoon, Kinsey sees an older woman slip some silk pajamas into her shopping bag.  She alerts the store staff who apprehend the shoplifter, but not the thief's younger accomplice who nearly runs down Kinsey in the parking lot.  That evening, Kinsey has a drink at Rosie's with the Nordstrom's employee who helped capture the shoplifter and thinks that's the end of the story.

Of course it's not the end, because otherwise this would be a very short book.  A few days later, Kinsey reads Audrey Vance's obituary and recognizes the dead woman as the shoplifter.  Her landlord Henry is in Michigan to be with his sister Nell who's recovering from surgery, so his brother William - hypochondriac and husband to the imperious Rosie - partially fills his role here.  He's not particularly insightful, but he has developed a funeral-going hobby and drags Kinsey along to Audrey's funeral where she meets Audrey's fiancĂ©.  Marvin Striker doesn't believe that Audrey committed suicide, so he hires Kinsey to find out who killed her.  Unfortunately, he doesn't want to believe that Audrey was a con woman and professional thief and fires Kinsey who continues the investigation on her own time.

Like Marcia Muller, Sue Grafton has employed a shifting POV in her recent novels.  Unlike Muller, whose alternate narrators are Sharon McCone's fellow investigators, Grafton gives her criminal a voice.  Lorenzo Dante is the mobster out of central casting - suave, vaguely dangerous, and with a veneer of respectability, and that whiff of danger may be what attracts Nora Vogelsong, the bored wife of a Hollywood attorney.  It's not clear until near the end of V is for Vengeance how those two fit into the plot, or why the burglar who taught Kinsey to pick locks and an irritating TV reporter keep showing up.  Grafton, however, is an experienced mystery writer and a clever plotter, so the coincidences never feel forced.  The Millhone series started out strong but (as many series do) slumped a bit around the twelfth book.   Maybe it's the shifting POV, but Grafton's last three books have been among her best (my favorite is still C is for Corpse).  I'm glad I waited until W is for Wasted came out in paperback before buying V is for Vengeance, because now I can read the two nearly back-to-back.

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