Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Great lines by mystery writer Sue Grafton

The Kinsey Millhone alphabet series of novels by Sue Grafton have reached the letter X. After reading A is for Alibi many years ago, I dipped back into the work of this prolific, disciplined and talented author and started reading at T. After catching up to Sue at X, I returned to B and am now working my way towards S.

The powerful female lead gives the stories their strong energy. Kinsey Millhone, PI, grows, develops and constantly questions her own motives along with those of others. She's not above judging by appearances, but she's always aware she has. Her intelligent comments -- about the human condition, often bring a laugh and a twinge, the greatest combination a writer can produce.

In a few words, she evokes images that reach beyond the scene and character to the real and imperfect world that any reader can recognize.

In B is for Burglar, she delivers this poignant punch: "Insecure people have a special sensitivity for anything that finally confirms their low opinion of themselves."

Try these lines from D is for Deadbeat: "The hairstyle suggested he was hung up in the past, his persona fixed perhaps by some significant event." Another fave from that book describes a mourner at a funeral who "smelled virulently of Lily of the Valley." Still at the funeral scene, Kinsey wonders why people "study" the dead, thinking it "makes about as much sense as paying homage to the cardboard box your favourite shoes came in."

In the course of her investigations, Kinsey does a lot of driving. It's before the days of good car stereos, or her car is too cheap to have one. Either way, on one early morning road trip, she listens to an early morning evangelist on the radio, and tells the reader, "by the time I reached Ventura, I was nearly redeemed." The cottage she arrives at is "a shaggy brown shingle, the perfect little snack for a swarm of hungry termites" (H is for Homicide).

In M is for Malice, Kinsey shares a downside of being single: "You tend to sleep with your mental shoes on, ready to leap up and arm yourself at the least little noise." Explaining her devotion to jogging along the beach, she says "Pain was better than anxiety any day of the week and sweat was better than depression."

She is well aware, even proud of the fact that she's an "expert at using words to keep other people at bay." Yes, Kinsey is on intimate terms with her own weaknesses, as we see when she shares the fact that "I omitted the reference…thinking if I didn’t write it down, the subject wouldn’t exist."

Kinsey owns one serviceable black dress. For the rest, the turtleneck, jeans, boots and bomber jacket serve. Unless she wants to dress up. Then she dons a tweed blazer. But she's well aware of what other California women do to their looks: "I could tell she had her eyes done, and probably her nose as well. In fact, just about everything I was looking at had been augmented or improved by some merry band of surgeons working on her, piece by piece." She also comments on the maintenance of the "clean look" that "probably cost her dearly, and had to be redone every other week."

In N is for Noose, Kinsey allows herself some scope for biting social commentary. Society evolves, but that doesn't always imply progress. Witness her views on the law: "These days, a trial isn’t about guilt or innocence. It’s a battle of wits in which competing attorneys, like intellectual gladiators, test their use of rhetoric. The mark of a good defense attorney is his ability to take any given set of facts and recast them in such a light that, presto change-o, as if by magic, what appeared to be absolute is turned into a frame-up or some elaborate conspiracy on the part of the police or government. Suddenly, the perpetrator becomes the victim and the deceased is all but forgotten in the process." 

The American health care system is another target of her sarcasm: "Medical insurance is only valid if the benefits are never used. Otherwise, you’re rewarded with a cancellation notice or a hefty increase in rates."

To close, I'll share one more piece of Ms. Millhone's philosophy: "My general policy is this: if your mind isn’t open, keep your mouth shut too."

Respectfully submitted,
Carol Tulpar

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