Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Alphabet series continues...with X!

I admit that I was curious as to how Grafton would entitle the 24th installment of her Kinsey Millhone series. I first discovered this series about 20 years ago and read them all once I had read A is for Alibi, which, as you might expect was the first in this series... ;) I loved them all and ever since then have read the newest release in the series as soon as I can once it is released! (I read this one a bit later, since I have over-committed myself with a large list of books to read and review per a self-imposed schedule...as happens with some bloggers!) But no matter how long I waited to read it, it was still one of the best mysteries ever! And not just the 'mystery' portion, but Grafton is, in my opinion, one of the best writers I have ever read. Her characterization is thorough and well-defined, and that is the one thing I most appreciate and hope for with each book I read! Now...as to the title, Ms. Grafton wisely allows X to stand on it's own...
X: The number ten. An unknown quantity. A mistake. A cross. A kiss. (Book jacket/summary blurb) 
X truly is a symbolic letter. As with R.I.P. Xfor which this is my third book! (Appropriate, huh? X...and...X!) 

And, as we learn, 
The boat itself...was known as a xebec, a small three-masted ship having an overhanging bow and stern and both square and lateen sails. (5) 
I was thrilled with this bit of information since I had just learned a great new word to use in scrabble and scrabble-like games! Which I play quite often! A new word with 'X' as the first letter! Yes! This ship was the main subject in a painting that Hallie was trying to have declared an original by a famous artist so it's true value could be determined. Her initial motivation was to determine whether it was worth stealing from her ex-husband! 

Grafton inserts philosophy every once in awhile in her books, and yet not intrusively, simply as a matter of daily life. I believe this is one of my favorite aspects of her writing. Her characters 'think,' they don't just 'do'! As Kinsey is remembering about a former co-worker:
While I disliked him, I was then twenty-seven years old and newly employed and didn't feel it was my place to make my thoughts known. Besides which, no one asked and I doubt they'd have listened if I'd volunteered my views. (10)
How many times have I felt the same way about a job or work place? Many...trust me...many! :)
  Pete's name was never mentioned, and neither of us made reference to our little chat the night before. This is not a bad strategy. The practice of baring all, analyzing every nuance embedded in a quarrel, is a surefire way to keep an argument alive. Better to establish a temporary peace and revisit the conflict later. Often, by then, both parties have decided the issue isn't worth the relationship. (139)
I would definitely agree with Kinsey on this! Better to let it rest a bit, if at all possible...
As Kinsey considers her former co-worker:
I did take note that even as I was exonerating him, I continued to condemn him in equal measure, proof positive that our prejudices are nearly impossible to scotch. 
  The best I could manage for the moment was to concede he could be guilty of bad deeds and still retain a basic goodness at the core. (208)
Isn't it true? Once we have formed an opinion it is extremely difficult to alter it much. As a person said to me at the Storytelling Festival about 10 days ago, "Well, I guess none of us is totally good or totally bad, we're all a mixture of both." Well stated and oh, so very true. 

After meeting with a client, Kinsey is home, eating soup and a sandwich and reading, 
In hindsight, I marvel at how clueless I was at the shit storm to come. What I ask myself even now is whether I should have picked up the truth any faster than I did, which was not nearly fast enough. (15)
But Kinsey was not the only one who was unsuspecting. Poor Ruthie...she was so very naÏve! While I would like to think that I might have put two and two together much more quickly than she did, I'm sure there is a good chance I might have been just as easily fooled as she was! I could appreciate the fact that she did not enter her house when she arrived home and the door was standing wide open. Again, I'm not sure I would be that smart, especially given the fact that I have five kitties in residence! I would be concerned about them first of all and that would probably motivate me to enter the house immediately. I can't imagine how creepy it would be to discover that someone had purposefully misplaced virtually all items in your home or office (any of your personal spaces), just to freak you out, like leaving a note stating "I was here and obviously, I can return at any time!" Now that is just mean and so scary! And yet, changing locks and installing security systems doesn't necessarily guarantee your safety either, as Kinsey learns.  

Humor is always included in a Kinsey tale--not too much, but just enough. Henry, Kinsey's landlord and an octagenarian "hunk," has acquired Ed, a cat. Ed keeps escaping from the house and Henry has been frustrated in his search for the escape route:
  "I made a discovery today. You know how Ed's been getting out?"
  "No clue." 
  "Dryer vent. The tubing came loose and I spotted the hole when I was crawling through the bushes checking water lines."
  "You close it up?" 
  "I did. He'll probably find another way out, but for now, he's housebound." 
  Apparently, Henry hadn't noticed the cat at his feet, and I made no mention of him. (56-57)
Ha! This made me laugh out loud! Poor Henry! Fooled by a feline! But we all know kitties can be tricky! :)
Of the receptionist Kinsey thinks...
...I was so irritated with the way she'd treated me, I might have bitten her on the arm. I'd been a biter as a kid, and I can still remember the feel of flesh between my teeth. It's like biting a rubber bathing cap, in case you're curious. (106)
All-righty then! My oldest son went through about 6 months of biting, then suddenly stopped...thank goodness! :) Though he seemed to only do this in public, selecting strangers as victims! <shakin' my head>

While on a stakeout, Kinsey ponders...
...I knew my bladder would be right there living in the moment with me and clamoring for relief. To distract myself, I thought about all the cusswords I knew and arranged them in alphabetical order. (178) 
Maybe that's why I love Kinsey; at times I'm sure she and I are twins! I can easily imagine creating that same task for myself as a distraction! 
I drove back to the hotel motor plaza, where I left my car for the night. My clean underwear was still damp, so I set up the ironing board and iron and sizzled them dry. (191)
Now that, I have never done, nor do I believe I would have ever been smart enough to think of it. Besides...I'm not sure I know how to wield an iron any more! :) Nor do I think I want to find out! 
As one of his former high school classmates describes the perp:
"I'm not sure anybody knew him well. He was one of those guys you see on the street and you can't remember his name to save your soul. There's only so much room at the top of the heap. The rest of us are fill dirt." (246)
That definitely had me laughing aloud, right along with Kinsey! 

I love the fact that Henry could contribute by using his puzzle-solving skills to create the main piece of evidence for Kinsey to follow. He may not be great at keeping Ed in the house, but he is a master puzzler! :) After all, he has even been known to create crossword puzzles! Using this list of women's names, and some personal artifacts, Kinsey tries to piece it all together to identify not only a villain, but also determine just what crimes he has committed! At the same time she becomes more and more leery about her newly installed next-door neighbors. They appear to be well-practiced 'users,' sucking well-meaning Henry into 'helping' them all the time. Kinsey was determined not to get involved, though quite naturally, she does, if only in the guise of helping Henry initially! In doing so, she discovers some valuable information that motivates her to initiate her own 'pro bono' investigation, with some interesting and rather scary results! 

And finally, when April is discussing her father and stepmother:
  "[They're] very compatible. He's a bully and she's a mouse.They act like everything's fine, but it's not." (296) 
When Kinsey asks if April thinks the birth of their grandchild will change anything...
  "Like we'd see them more often? I'm sure he's hoping so, but I don't."
  "I never know what to make of conversations like this,...I sometimes have this fantasy that life would be wonderful if only my mother and my father were alive. Then I hear stories like yours and I want to get down on my hands and knees and rejoice." (297)
Even as this conversation transpired, neither April nor Kinsey had an inkling of the truth--what kind of person her father truly was... And I could so relate to Kinsey. Having never met my own father and then learning that he died 17 years ago, I believe I have such fantasies myself every once in awhile...

If you've never read Grafton and you enjoy mysteries with more than just "action," I can highly recommend this series! I always advise starting at the beginning, because I don't think any of the later books introduce Kinsey to the reader nearly as well as the first one does...so go read A is for Alibi and give Kinsey and Grafton a try! 

If you've read this one, how would you feel about Ned if you were April? Yikes!! I doubt there will be a way to track him, since he abandoned his own easily-identifiable vehicle. 

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