Author: Sue Grafton
Publisher: Berkley, 2006
Mass Market Paperback, 368 pages
Genre: Private Investigator, #19 Kinsey Millhone mystery
First Line: When Liza Mellincamp thinks about the last time she ever saw Violet Sullivan, what comes most vividly to mind is the color of Violet's Japanese silk kimono, a shade of blue that Liza later learned was called "cerulean," a word that wasn't even in her vocabulary when she was fourteen years old.
On Saturday, July 4, 1953, most people in Serena Station, California, planned to spend at least part of their evening watching the fireworks display. Violet Sullivan was not one of them. She made arrangements for her usual babysitter, got dressed up, loaded her three-month-old Pomeranian puppy into her purse, and drove off in a cloud of dust in her brand-new Bel Air. She never came back.
Although they did search for her, most people assumed that the vivacious Violet had run off with the latest man who'd caught her fancy. Trouble is, she left a young daughter behind who grew up with a lot of problems due to her mother's disappearance. Reluctantly, Kinsey Millhone agrees to work for Daisy, even though she privately thinks she's not going to get anywhere with the 34-year-old cold case.
Of course we know that once Kinsey starts investigating, she's going to get somewhere. Grafton veers away from Kinsey's usual first person narrative to intersperse flashbacks from the various people in town who knew the missing woman. As the story progresses, the reader begins to understand that all these people have their own reasons for wanting Violet dead.
Hopefully I won't be tarred and feathered by the legions of Millhone fans when I say that previously the only book in the series I'd read was A is for Alibi. For some reason that I can't remember, Kinsey and I didn't really hit it off, but I'm happy to say that I appreciate her a lot more now that I've read S is for Silence. Did I feel as though I was missing a lot of detail, not having read B through R? No. I fell right in step with her as she began digging away at the facts in this case.
The flashbacks populated the town for me and gave me a real sense of the way Violet interacted with everyone. Without those glimpses into 1953, the story would have been skeletal indeed. As it was, I became quite caught up in the book and its characters. I was able to narrow down the field of those who wished Violet ill, but never got around to choosing my chief suspect.
Many times in reading crime fiction, it's not just about whodunit. Sometimes the how and the why are even more important, and once in a while the characters make a reader forget everything else. Where S is for Silence is concerned, the who led to the how and then to the why, and then I just concentrated on a private investigator who doesn't know how to quit... and the daughter, abandoned so long ago, who deserved truth and justice.
And now for an exclusive sneak peek at Sue's latest book,
V is for Vengeance!
V is for Vengeance!
V is for Vengeance. If you've missed any of the previous stops on this blog tour, you might want to take it from the top: Lesa's Book Critiques, Jen's Book Thoughts, Book Reviews by Elizabeth A. White, Linus's Blanket, and Devourer of Books. The tour resumes next Tuesday at BermudaOnion's Weblog.
If you comment on all ten blogs for the blog tour, you'll be eligible to win one of three sets of books that include: Q, R, S, T, U in paperback and a copy of the new one, V is for Vengeance.
To aid you in leaving a comment, here's a question for you:
Does it bother you that Kinsey has aged much slower than the rest of us mortals? She's still stuck in the 80s!
Now for the exclusive!
So this is how it went down, folks. I turned thirty-eight on May 5, 1988, and my big birthday surprise was a punch in the face that left me with two black eyes and a busted nose. Contributing to the overall effect were the wads of gauze in both nostrils and a fat upper lip. My medical insurance sported me to the services of a plastic surgeon who repaired the old schnozz while I was blissfully sedated.
On my release, I retreated to my studio apartment, where I lay on my sofa, keeping my head elevated to minimize the swelling. This allowed me time to brood about my ill treatment at the hands of a virtual stranger. Five or six times a day, I’d check my reflection in the bathroom mirror, watching handsome red-and-purple bruises migrate from my eye sockets to my cheeks, blood settling in circles as conspicuous as rouge on a clown’s face. I was grateful my teeth had been spared. Even so, I spent days explaining my sudden resemblance to a raccoon.
People kept saying, “Oh, wow! You finally got your nose done. It looks great!”
This was entirely uncalled for as no one had ever complained about my nose before, at least not to my face. My poor snout had been broken on two previous occasions and it never occurred to me that I’d suffer a repetition. Of course, the indignity was my own fault, since I was sticking said nose into someone else’s business when I was so rudely assaulted by a short-arm blow.
The incident that heralded my fate seemed insignificant at first. I was standing in the lingerie department at Nordstrom’s department store, sorting through ladies’ underpants on sale—three pair for ten bucks, a bonanza for someone of my cheap bent. What could be more banal? I don’t like to shop, but I’d seen a half-page ad in the morning paper and decided to take advantage of the bargain prices. It was Friday, April 22, a date I remember because I’d wrapped up a case the day before and I’d spent the morning typing my final report.
For those of you just making my acquaintance, my name is Kinsey Millhone. I’m a licensed private detective in Santa Teresa, California, doing business as Millhone Investigations. In the main, I deal with bread-and-butter jobs—background checks, skip tracing, insurance fraud, process serving, and witness location, with the occasional rancorous divorce thrown in for laughs. Not coincidentally, I’m female, which is why I was shopping for ladies’ underwear instead of men’s. Given my occupation, I’m no stranger to crime and I’m seldom surprised by the dark side of human nature, my own included. Further personal data can wait in the interest of getting on with my sad tale of woe. In any event, I have additional groundwork to lay before I reach the stunning moment that did me in.
I left the office early that day and made my usual Friday bank deposit, taking back a portion in cash to carry me over the next two weeks. I drove from the bank to the parking garage under the Passages Shopping Plaza. I generally frequent the low-end chain stores, where aisles are jammed with racks of identical garments, suggesting cheap manufacture in a country unfettered by child labor laws. Nordstrom’s was a palace by comparison, the interior cool and elegant. The floors were gleaming marble tile and the air was scented with designer perfumes. The store directory indicated that women’s intimate apparel was located on 3, and I headed for the escalator.
What caught my eye as I entered the sales area was a display of silk pajamas in a dazzling array of jewel tones—emerald, amethyst, garnet, and sapphire—neatly folded and arranged by size. The original unit price was $199.95, marked down to $49.95. I couldn’t help flirting with the notion of two-hundred-dollar pj’s against my bare skin. Most nights, I sleep in a ratty oversize T-shirt. At $49.95, I could afford to indulge. Then again, I’m single and sleep alone so what would be the point?
I found a table piled with scanties and picked my way through, debating the merits of high-cut briefs versus boy-shorts versus hiphuggers, distinctions that meant absolutely nothing to me. I don’t often buy undies, so I’m usually forced to start from scratch. Styles have changed, lines have been discontinued, entire manufacturing plants have apparently burned to the ground. I vowed if I found something I liked, I’d buy a dozen at the very least.
I’d been at it ten minutes and I was already tired of holding lacy scraps across my pelvis to judge the fit. I scanned the area, looking for assistance, but the nearest clerk was busy advising another customer, a hefty woman in her fifties, in spike-heel shoes and a tight black pantsuit that made her thighs and butt bulge unbecomingly. She would have done well to emulate the sales clerk, younger by a good ten years, in her conservative dark blue dress and sensible flats. The two stood in front of a rack of matching lacy bra-and-bikini sets on little plastic hangers. I couldn’t imagine the chunky woman in bikini underwear, but there’s no accounting for taste. It wasn’t until the two parted company that I saw the younger woman’s big leather purse and shopping bag and realized she was simply another customer, shopping for lingerie like everyone else. I returned to my task, decided a size small would do, and gathered an assortment of pastels, adding animal prints until I had forty dollars’ worth.
A girl-child of about three scurried past and concealed herself in the inner recesses of a rack of loungewear, knocking several hangers to the floor. I could hear the raised voice of an anxious mother.
“Portia, where are you?”
There was a movement in the loungewear; Portia wiggling deeper into her hiding place.
The mother appeared at the end of the aisle, a woman in her twenties, probably trying not to sound as anxious as she felt. I raised a hand and pointed at the rack, where I could still see a pair of black patent leather Mary Janes and two sturdy legs.
The mother pushed the clothes aside and dragged the child out by one arm. “Goddamn it! I told you not to move,” she said, and swatted her once on her backside before she retreated to the elevators with the little girl in tow. The child seemed totally unaffected by the reprimand.
A woman standing nearby turned with a disapproving look and said to me, “Disgusting. Someone should call the floor manager. That’s child abuse.”
I shrugged, remembering the many swats I’d endured at my Aunt Gin’s hands. She always assured me she’d really give me something to cry about if I wanted to protest.
My attention was drawn back to the woman in the black pantsuit, who was now peering wistfully at the silk pajamas, much as I had. I confess I took a certain proprietary interest, having lusted after them myself. I glanced at her and then I blinked with disbelief as she slid two pairs of pajamas (one emerald, one sapphire) into her shopping bag. I shifted my gaze, wondering if the strain of panty buying had caused me to hallucinate.