Author: Sue Grafton
Unless you have lived under a rock for the past, um, most of my lifetime, you have probably heard of Sue Grafton’s mystery series. They start with A is for Alibi and follow Private Investigator Kinsey Millhone (two L’s, rhymes with Bone) on adventures in Private Investigating, and the ongoing stories of her and a few friends. X is the 24th installment. (Note, We reviewed W is for Wasted, and her Kinsey & Me short story collection in 2013.)
So, I put my name down at the library to be on the hold list for this book something like six months ago. Basically, as early as I could. The result is that aside from the librarian that put the book in the system, I’m the only person that had reason to crack the cover, and it still has that new book smell. Woohooo! (Hey, it’s like Christmas for someone like me. Don’t judge.)
Anyway, I recived the book about a week ago, and once I started reading it made relatively quick work of it.
The story starts with a prologue that is 100% not needed, and really, the book would have had a larger impact if it weren’t there at all, and said prologue is, quite frankly, quite boring. Once you get into the story itself, we find Kinsey on a simple job of finding contact info for a recently released ex-con who is the long abandoned child of a society chick who would like to find him. While that’s going on, Henry, her landlord, is 89 years young and on a kick to conserve water because it’s California [Note: the books take place in the late 80s. Yes, there was a drought, but nothing like we have now], and a new
woman, Edna, has moved in next door. Kinsey also has a little bit going on with the stuff Pete left behind (we saw him in the last book).
Of course the story of the woman finding her son is bogus, and Kinsey is soon thrown into a world of secrets and lies and a very confusing set of circumstances to see how all of it is connected.
About the book. First of all, I’m not going to lie. The title of the book just outright pisses me off. Readers have spent THIRTY YEARS reading this author, and many of us have collected the series. In fact, I first discovered it in hardback and I’ve collected the whole series that way. L is for Lawless, M is for Malice, N is for Noose… etc. So what do we have when we get here? X. A big, fat, red X. We could have had X is for Xenomania or Xenophobia (a mania or phobia of foreign things), Xenosaurus (I mean, who doesn’t love Mexican lizards?), Xeranthemums (its a plant), Xerophilious (drought-loving -hey, it fits with everything Henry’s doing!), Xystus (a long, open portico. Also, I like saying Xystus. Xystus. XYSTUS!) or xeransus (drying up), or xylopyrography, which involves carving things in wood with a hot iron or a number of other awesome X words that most people never learned in school because school isn’t cool like that. And maybe somebody not crazy into books won’t be annoyed by this, but I ran it past several book-loving friends and they agree with me. When you have a 26 book hardcover set sitting on a shelf, you expect all of them to look like they go together. Not 25 of them and what’s this with the big red X.
That out of the way, like I said, the prologue was pointless and boring. Actually, the prologue wasn’t pointless, but I suspect it saved Sue several pages later on in the book so she did it because it was easy. But boring. As were the first few chapters. Case in point, my mother and I have both read the previous 24 books (A-W and the collection) and she couldn’t get started. I had wanted to read them together but I had to finally tell her that you have to suffer through the beginning to enjoy this thing. So my advice to readers is to make it to chapter five and then you’ll be okay.
There are a few cute points at the begining. Kinsey’s ongoing dealings with Henry’s cat, Ed, for instance. Although Sue forgets the cat after about the first hundred pages, so it almost feels like a loose end she forgot to tuck in. And some very annoying things, like Edna next door. Also, some of the ongoing things felt a little TOO contemporary (an issue I had with some stuff in the last book too) But once the book hits about chapter 5, Sue really found her rhythm for a while and the book felt wonderfully like the middle of the alphabet, where I think the series really had a nice stride (L is still my favorite).
Most of the book, though, is spent wondering when the two main story lines – the fake person using Kinsey to get info and the stuff with her now-dead former colleague – are going to tie in together. And somewhere around chapter 25 or 26, I really wished she’d just get the hell on with it by now. I’m pretty sure the book could have been about fifty pages shorter. Which is odd because of what I’m about to say next, which is that the ending felt a little rushed and I think it needed about ten more pages back there.
Still, I *wanted* to finish it and find out what happened and see the story lines fit together and watch what happened to Edna and everything else, and the book made me feel happy to be reading the series again.
So my rating comes with a bit of advice. Stick out the begining – and really, skip the damn prologue if you’d like – and if you can make it to chapter 5, you’re golden. The overall book far outweighs my issues with it and I give it a solid 4/5 rating.