X: The number ten. An unknown quantity. A mistake. A cross. A kiss…
I had read quite a few of the alphabet books when they were first published, and I think I got to about the letter J or so when I drifted away from the series. I remember enjoying them at the time, but my reading interests shifted onto different things. I was saddened to hear of Sue Grafton’s recent passing, so I decided to pick up one of her more recent efforts for old time’s sake. And unfortunately, this book just wasn’t up to the standard set by the earlier books. It’s also far longer than the earlier ones, and seemed padded with a lot of useless filler.
As anyone who has read the series knows, Kinsey Millhone is a female private detective in Santa Teresa, CA, circa 1980s. She rents an apartment, and her elderly landlord Henry Pitt is a spry 80 year old who loves to bake. She hangs out at Rosie’s bar/restaurant and a small circle of friends, and has a couple of former boyfriends she keeps in touch with. Nothing much has changed in this scenario, so I didn’t feel like I had missed anything by not reading books K to W. It’s still late 1980s, there’s no cell phones, no personal computers, and therefore no internet to check facts – it’s all rather quaint. At the start of this book, she’s at loose ends so when a woman calls to hire her for what seems to be a simple case of finding a long lost child given up for adoption, Kinsey thinks it’s no big deal. After meeting at the client’s hilltop mansion, she agrees to take the case and is paid in cash which subsequently turns out to be marked bills and Kinsey realizes that she’s been played. Everything she assumed about the client was bogus and she starts to dig into what was really going on.
A second plot thread revolves around an old colleague, Pete Wolinsky, who has passed away. His widow is being hounded by the IRS and Kinsey volunteers to look through some old documents she had of his to see if she can find some documents. In doing so, she stumbles across an old case that she feels compelled to pick up, even though no one else seemed to be interested in it. Added to this is Henry’s sudden obsession with his water bill and the state of drought in California at the time and he rips out his entire lawn and shrubbery in an effort to conserve water, as he chides Kinsey to keep her usage to a minimum as well. Exciting stuff, there. Oh, and there’s new neighbors next door that seem sketchy to Kinsey since they’re taking advantage of Henry’s good nature.
To be honest, I wasn’t that riveted by any of these plots, and the three unrelated threads bounce back and forth, as Kinsey also goes into great detail about her daily life. I had either forgotten how Ms Grafton wrote the play by play of Kinsey’s days, or it’s gotten worse, but oh man it was dull. I also learned a lot about conserving water, more than I wanted to know for sure! It was also frustrating to read the exact details of every person’s appearance from their tightly permed gray hair down to their sensible crepe soled shoes. I even forgot who some of the players were, or why I should care about them. While some readers may enjoy the comfort of Kinsey’s unchanging routines, I had expected some character growth by this point in the series. I give this two stars for the content, but round up to three on the basis of nostalgic regard for Sue Grafton.