Fresh Meat: Sue Grafton’s V is for Vengeance

V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton
V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton
Has Kinsey Millhone lost her taste for fast food? Has the connoisseur of Mickey D’s found that a fast food diet isn’t as satisfying as it used to be?

And what’s this? The decidedly unfashionable Kinsey on a shopping spree at, of all places, Nordstrom’s and in, of all places, the lingerie department?

Is this the same Kinsey Millhone that author Sue Grafton turned into an icon of mystery fiction? The same fiercely independent private investigator who helped change the genre who she introduced in A is for Alibi:

My name is Kinsey Millhone. I am a private investigator, licensed by the state of California. I am thirty-two years old, twice divorced, no kids. The day before yesterday I killed someone and the fact weighs heavily on my mind. 

Maybe Kinsey has the birthday blues. V is for Vengeance finds Kinsey about to turn 38 years old. Like many of us as we age, Kinsey may be feeling that fast food is not her friend anymore and that exercise alone won’t keep at bay the effects of too many drive-through lunches.

Instead, Kinsey goes to several restaurants, eats a lot of bad Hungarian food at the neighborhood diner Rosie’s, downs bowls of cereal for breakfast and is often hungry. She even tries to eat mutton in V is for Vengeance, but ends up wrapping it up to throw away when she gets home. When a client describes in detail how his fiancée did not know her way around the kitchen, Kinsey listens dutifully, but all she can think about is returning to a bar for a bite before the kitchen closes.

When Kinsey finally succumbs to the lure of a fast food chain and picks up an Egg McMuffin, I wanted to cheer. When Kinsey gave in and made her (in)famous peanut butter and pickle sandwich, you could understand her joy in what is, to her, comfort food. She’s even humming as she makes the sandwich.

And Kinsey knows what equipment a private detective needs. “A bag of Pepperidge Farm cookies, Milanos being essential for surveillance work. Without them, I’d just end up feeling sorry for myself.”

Kinsey’s forays into fast food allowed her readers to live vicariously through her meals. OK, I know that those drive-through meals are bad and bad for you, but there is a certain pleasure in the succor they offer. Like a smoker who can’t help getting that jolt from unsealing the pack, slowly drawing out the cigarette, touching it to fire and then drawing in that deep first breath. (OK, I kinda stole that from the TV comedy Frasier.) But so it goes with that first bite of a quarter-pounder or those too-salty and often too-hot fries. I let Kinsey go to the drive-throughs for me.

Turning 38 hasn’t turned Kinsey into a fashionista, but this poster child for causal wear does make a couple of changes.

Kinsey has always been one pair of pants shy of being fodder for What Not to Wear. Jeans, turtleneck sweaters and one black dress that has weathered so much don’t exactly cause her closet to bulge.

But even Kinsey can’t resist the lure of the good sale that draws her to Nordstrom’s lingerie department, “sorting through ladies’ underpants on sale – three pair for ten bucks, a bonanza for someone of my cheap bent.” She even flirts with buying silk pajamas, marked down to $49.95 from $199.95. “Most nights I sleep in a ratty oversize T-shirt. At $49.95, I could afford to indulge. Then again, I’m single and sleep alone so what would be the point?”

Accustomed to “low-end chain stores, where aisles are jammed with racks of identical garments, suggesting cheap manufacture in a country unfettered by child labor laws,” Kinsey is seduced by Nordstrom’s, which is “a palace by comparison, the interior cool and elegant.”

While Kinsey scores big time during the sale, she witnesses two shoplifters who jumpstart the plot, moving V is for Vengeance to a gripping, multi-layered story about the high cost of shop lifting, gambling addiction and the challenges of making fresh starts.

Food and clothes don’t make the detective, but these quirks add to the sum of Kinsey’s personality. They illustrate her loner persona, her independence and her self-confidence.

Hard to believe that V is for Vengeance is Grafton’s 22nd novel in this series and that she has only four more novels before Kinsey retires. Grafton has said that Kinsey will turn 40 in the last novel. By then, Kinsey may even have made it to Neiman Marcus. We can only guess what culinary surprises await her at mealtime.

[Read Oline Cogdill’s complete review of V is for Vengeance at The Sun-Sentinel.]

Oline H. Cogdill writes a twice a week blog for Mystery Scene magazine. She also reviews mystery fiction for Mystery Scene magazine, the Sun Sentinel newspaper, McClatchy Tribune Features Wire, and Publishers Weekly.

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