I have faithfully read all of Sue Grafton’s “alphabet” series and have usually enjoyed them; but it is only in the past few outings that I’ve come to look forward to each new letter avidly. The author is now well into her stride with her characters and setting, and rather than sticking to the formula established in the first several titles, she is exploring and creating new situations in her fictional town of Santa Teresa (based on Santa Barbara) and its environs. Perhaps more than usual, I felt in V for Vengeance that the author is feeling somewhat constrained by her title style; although vengeance does indeed feature here, it is by no means the only motivation for the many dark deeds described in the pages.
Kinsey Millhone is a private investigator in her late 30s. While in an upmarket department store she sees a woman blatantly shoplifting and reports her to the sales assistant and, via her, the security officers. Although the thief is apprehended, her accomplice escapes – injuring Kinsey in the process. Later, Kinsey reads that the shoplifter, awaiting trial, has apparently committed suicide by jumping off a cliff. Skipping a few plot points, she is hired by Marvin, the dead woman’s fiancé, to look into her death as he is convinced it was no accident. Kinsey makes some progress, discovering that the dead woman was involved in much more than the occasional piece of casual thievery, but runs out of leads.
What raises this book above the level of a straightforward crime novel is its two vivid subplots. One of these involves a crooked businessman called Dante, who has inherited his father’s enterprises but who has little enthusiasm for some of the family’s more lethal methods of settling their affairs. Dante has been trapped in this life since boyhood; the portrait of him is involving and moving. The other main subplot concerns Nora, a rich Californian wife who is married to Channing, a lawyer to movie stars and the like. It gradually becomes clear how Nora and Channing have drifted apart over the years, and that Nora, like Dante a gentle soul at heart, is trapped in the life she’s created for herself.
For the first 250 or so pages, the book is completely absorbing as the three stories progress and the reader can try to outguess the author as to how or if they will turn out to be connected. At this point, there is a bit of a lull, as Kinsey becomes involved in helping an old, lowlife friend “Pinky” who is on the run in a matter concerning some photographs. Perhaps improbably, Pinky is also involved with the people Kinsey is investigating in the shoplifter-suicide case and provides some pieces of the puzzle that Kinsey is trying to solve. At about the same point in the book, a piece of information is revealed to the reader that changes the dynamics between Nora and Dante – a development that I felt was a bit of a cheat as it concerns a matter that Nora, whose part of the narrative is told to the reader from her point of view, would certainly have been thinking about during her daily life but which is not mentioned.
At the end, the book delivers a satisfying resolution to the various plots, as the stories concerning Kinsey, Pinky, Marvin, Dante and Nora, as well as sundry well-observed minor characters, all converge. I was pleased that Kinsey’s neighbour Henry and his brother William did not feature too much here, as I think that they, and Kinsey’s regular descriptions of her unique home, can overburden and slow down the novels too much. I also wish Kinsey would find a different place to eat dinner occasionally. Overall, although I did find that there were rather too many coincidences for my liking, V is for Vengeance is a strong addition to the series and will leave readers eagerly awaiting W is for……
I thank Karen of Euro Crime for my copy of this book.