By Sue Grafton.
This is a collection of (a) Kinsey Millhone short stories and (b) a series of "stories" that are thinly veiled slightly fictional versions of Sue Grafton's early adulthood dealing with her alcoholic mother. There's an essay in the middle about mystery writing.
Hoo boy, is this kind of hard to review given the differing content. I don't even really know how to handle this, but here I go anyway. (Note the confused category tagging on this one.)
The first half of the book are short stories taking place primarily in the early years of Kinsey Millhone's fictional life. They're short and snappy--perhaps a bit too short for my preference, to be honest, I felt like I missed the depth that the author usually takes with stories. I felt like a good chunk of them had to end specifically to fit a word count or something. But then again, I'm not usually a fan of short story collections for that reason except for the occasional story that nails it. Okay, so these pretty much do nail it, but.... overall, they felt too short and it bothered me. They are otherwise good, but I felt like I'd only gotten to eat a few potato chips and then someone took my bag away. Maybe that's just me, though.
The Kinsey stories are (all lower case titled, for the record):
- between the sheets: A kinda weird client wanders in saying that she found her boyfriend dead in her child's bed. When Kinsey goes over to the house, the corpse has disappeared and turns up in the empty apartment nearby. Kinsey quickly deduces what happened once she finds out someone's occupation. She also has a bit of an odd bonding moment with the client's daughter.
- long gone: Kinsey is hired by a frazzled dad with too many jerky young sons to find his missing wife. It's pretty quickly determined that his wife was having an affair, stealing money and fleeing the country--wouldn't you want to be long gone from the guy who wants more kids? Hmmmm.... This was one of the better ones to me, somehow. One of those "heh heh, crucial detail you didn't know" plots.
- the parker shotgun: A pregnant wife hires Kinsey to investigate the death of her former drug dealer husband. (He quit because of the baby.) Oddly enough, his murder has more to do with a very rare shotgun and the fishy actions of a pissed-off wife, her druggie son, and her jerkass stroke victim husband.
- non sung smoke: Kinsey is so bored she takes a decidedly fishy case--a party girl wants to track down the guy she "balled" last night. Kinsey does it and then the dude turns up dead days later. Kinsey does a wacky 1980's airport trackdown of her client to find out what's what. This was kind of one of those cases where it felt too short--other interesting things were set up and then abandoned once the murderer turned up. I'm still wondering about the wife, darn it.
- falling off the roof: Kinsey is hired to investigate the murder of a guy shoved off a roof. She agrees with her client off the bat that the wife is super fishy, and joins a mystery book club and tries to pretend to be a suburban sort while she's there. But people who like mysteries can investigate too. This premise cracked me up a bit--it may be a bit too looney for the usual Kinsey book, but I liked it--but again, this one ended too short and it bothered me.
- a poison that leaves no trace: Kinsey investigates a daughter who just came into money after her mother's death at the request of her ticked-off aunt. Kinsey trails the daughter around as she spends money, but there's something wrong with this one. A little weird and creepy, but not bad.
- full circle: Kinsey witnesses a car accident/murder and is hired by the victim's mom to investigate the murder. Kinsey feels a lot of sympathy for her client, who seemed young and nice. The only people who didn't seem to like her were her roommate and the mysterious guy stalking her. That last bit is where you should pay attention....Again, I felt like I was missing a few details here and there and the author just wanted me to fill in the blanks. Which is annoying me, but oh well.
- a little missionary work: This one might be the best of the lot. A bank bigwig that Kinsey knows from the gym secretly recruits her to help a famous actress deal with the kidnapping and ransom of her husband. Even a bank bigwig can't get that much money together, so Kinsey goes to an "old friend"/perennial criminal she knows named Henry to get the money in time. After doing the dropoff herself...Well, there's two twists to this one, and the second one just cracked my shit up. I am a little sad that "old friend" Harry Hovey never made it into the regular novels, he's kind of a hoot.
- the lying game: I don't get this story. It's pretty much this logic problem, straight up. I was expecting there to be an ending in which Kinsey is all "ta-da, this is a thought exercise and not real life in any sense of the imagination," but it was not. Huh?
entr'acte: An Eye For an I: Justice, Morality, the Nature of the Hard-boiled Private Investigator, and All That Existential Stuff. This is a short but nice nice writeup about Sue's introduction to detective fiction and how she got into the idea of the hard-boiled PI.
The second half of the book are stories about "Kit Blue," which as far as I can tell are pretty much exactly what happened to Sue Grafton as a young woman except with the names changed. I'm not going to review each one separately. I feel very awkward reviewing them at all because they're so brutally bare and painful. I feel very sorry for what the author went through, and reading these stories were brutal. (Especially that her mother killed herself on her daughter's birthday. GOOD GOD.) And then her stepmother "Mildred" is one of those daddy-stealing pieces of work--the story about the lady who left her money to her dog and then Mildred had the dog killed within a week of the owner's death, holy shit. I can't review these or reread them again, they're agony. Not badly written, they're very sharp, but....ouch. I also have never quite gotten the point of the thinly veiled "fictional" story--I just keep thinking that claiming it's Not Real isn't doing anyone any favors and why didn't you just write it as nonfiction, then?
Overall, I'm going to give this three stars.