Sunday, February 19, 2012

V is for Vengeance: The Musical?

Over thirty years ago, author Sue Grafton set some parameters for a series of mysteries.  Learning on the job, her variations within those parameters grow in complexity until her form seems about to break apart.  Each novel follows in an alphabetical pattern;  each features detective Kinsey Millhone, each moves forward just a few months past the one before, so that, thirty years later, we're still in the 1980s.   Now, with V is for Vengeance we have a master playing with her form, this time creating something close to musical comedy.

The "opening number" draws us into the story of a cocky college graduate desperate to climb out of his debt to a gangster by gambling.  The shocking end of that chapter is followed by a high-contrast piece set in a department store where Millhone alerts store personnel to a pair of high-volume shoplifters. 

Many chapters pass before we understand the connection of chapter one to chapter two, and the novel has nearly reached its conclusion before we understand the title.  Along the way, we have chapters that involve us in the lives of characters interesting in their own right -- a suburban housewife with a philandering husband, the gangster with the code of honor, and Kinsey herself investigating the apparent suicide of the shoplifter.  Add to the mix a small time crook, friend of Kinsey, named Pinky, and a corrupt cop named Len Priddy.

Grafton takes her time tying all of these together, choreographing some coincidences and connections in the manner of a farceur, slamming doors and all. 

All the characters join in the grand finale.

I have one beef with Grafton, and it's in the Millhone chapters.  Must we be told every detail about what she ate, when she washed, how she drove? 

Otherwise, I appreciate the craftsmanship and humane feelings behind the events and characters of the series.

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