This is the twenty-second book in Grafton’s Alphabet series. She writes them slowly, averaging a book every two years. She wanted to avoid falling into a “cookie-cutter” syndrome, and strives to make each book both distinct and memorable. The problem is that if the reader reads one right after another, like I found myself doing, they can’t help but blend into each other, so that I found myself running into characters halfway through the book that I was supposed to be familiar with but I couldn’t keep it straight in my mind who they were and what their significance was for the plot.
Each story is a procedural mystery, solved by Kinsey Millhone, the 30-something divorced female private eye from Santa Teresa, California. At a certain point in the series, Grafton started to change her story structures. Grafton began to give sub-characters chapters that traced their stories from their point of view. For some books this device worked pretty well, giving us greater insight into the motives and struggles of both the victims and the perpetrators.
For V is for Vengeance, the undercover world of big-time shoplifting is slowly revealed to us, first through small players all the way up to the head, who has inherited this enterprise from his father. Kinsey, who we like because of her quirks (like being crazy for Quarter Pounders with Cheese) and her human side (like falling for the wrong guy now and again), is hired to look into the so-called suicide of a shoplifter. Her fiancé can’t believe she would have killed herself and also can’t believe the extent of her criminal involvement.
We like Kinsey because she is committed, and having a client decide she is off the case is often not the final say for her. It doesn’t mean that her principles are that ironclad, it’s just that she doesn’t like getting pushed aside. Usually Grafton does a good job of creating secondary characters with certain habits or ways of looking at things that make them apt to slide over the line from legal to illegal. The head boss of the shoplifting operation is presented as a good guy despite what he does – we learn about his mean dad and psychotic brother as though these family members somehow forced him into his lifestyle. He looks terrific (compared to them) and it doesn’t hurt that he’s good-looking and incredibly rich to boot. Although this side plot of the thief with the heart of gold isn’t quite believable, overall the book delivers, detailing the crime all around us and the nitty gritty that we all go through in order to get somewhere.
Grafton makes the case with Kinsey that having a pretty little guesthouse, with a great friend as your landlord right on the premises, all in beautiful by the sea Santa Teresa, may not be a ticket to happiness but comes close to contentment. So, write on Grafton!
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