I continue my race with Sue Grafton: I've now finished "S", "V" came out last year, and she's probably working on "W" as I type. Will I catch up? Will we both make it to "Z"? Will Ms. Grafton's protagonist, the feisty and independent private investigator Kinsey Millhone ever find a nice guy and settle down? (Is it sexist to wonder that? Probably.)
Here, Kinsey is hired by Daisy, who's haunted by the disappearance of her mother, Violet, on July 4, 1953. In Kinsey's timeframe, that's 34 years in the past. Kinsey's given a seemingly hopeless task: find out Violet's fate, and if foul play was involved, bring the perpetrators to justice. Her method is the usual: interview everyone involved still alive from that era, rattling cages, prying into dark corners that some would like left alone. Does this work? Of course it does. Although not without peril to Kinsey and also her venerable VW bug.
The writing is a bit different here: Kinsey usually tells her story as the first-person narrator of events happening in her mid-80s timeframe. Here, every so often we get flashbacks to 1953, covering the days and hours before Violet's disappearance. Each is a third-person narration, following different characters and their interactions with Violet. For such a radical departure from formula this works pretty well.
Ms. Grafton is a well-known admirer of Ross Macdonald, basing Kinsey in Santa Teresa, the same fictional city as Macdonald placed his PI, Lew Archer. This is the most Macdonaldesque book of hers I've read: like Lew, Kinsey needs to unravel decades-old secrets and scandals. Also like Lew, Kinsey must keep track of a lot of characters. And as readers, so must we. I was a little surprised when the plot was finally unspun; it seemed a bit arbitrary. But that's OK. Life is arbitrary at times.