S is for Silence by Sue Grafton
So I finished the final paper of my coursework (thesis, here I come) and wanted to read something fast and fun. The Kinsey Millhone series is a holdover from another era; I read some of the early books when they first came out (A, B, etc.) and while I haven’t kept up with the series, I’ll read them if they fall into my lap. My mom passed this one on to me.
S is set in 1987; Kinsey is 37. Out of curiosity, I looked up when A is for Alibi was first published—1982 (hmm, that really was another era!). Since Kinsey was 32 in the first book, this means that the initial book of the series was set in the present, but now the series is set firmly in the past. Nothing against setting stories in the past, but this is kind of weird for a series, don’t you think? To have it be contemporary to begin with, but become historical? I mean, this book reads very differently to me now than A did when I read it in the early 80s.
I imagine there are two reasons Grafton might have decided to do this. One, had the books remained contemporary, Kinsey would now be 57. While she certainly could still be a PI at 57, it seems likely that other aspects of her life would have changed in that period of time. Like she might not be living in a garage apartment, her landlord (who was 80-something in A) would probably not be still living, and Chardonnay might no longer be her drink of choice. And we all know that genre books like to maintain their worlds once they’ve been established. Two: the Internet & cell phones. Kinsey is still using payphones, answering machines, and doing research at the library. And while I can see plenty of reasons why an author might want to set a story pre-Internet & cell phone, in a series this long, I think it would have been more interesting for readers to see Kinsey adapt to these changes (as real PIs have had to do if they have been in business over the past 25 years).
In S, Kinsey investigates a cold case. A woman hires her to investigate her mother’s disappearance in 1953. The story flips between Kinsey’s 1987 world and flashbacks to 1953 (various characters). Since Kinsey is not a party to the 1953 flashbacks, the reader always knows more than she does. I’m not thrilled with this device. In a detective story, I think it’s best if we stick to the detective’s PoV—this is the only way the reader can play along (and isn’t that what a detective story is about?). Also not thrilled with the ending; while not quite a deus ex machina, the baddy turns out to be peripheral character (it is foreshadowed, but it still seems lame). It’s a soap opera ending, the easy way out. Overall, the story was kind of plodding. The flashbacks contributed to this, I think, but also the overly long description. Everything was described in great detail! (Were the earlier books like this? I don’t remember.) Too much. And I like description.
Random tidbit: Grafton’s pet word is “ease”: people are forever easing onto stools, cars easing out of driveways, etc. etc.