Review: 'O' what a delight!
'O Is for Outlaw'
Henry Holt & Co., $26
Review by L.D. Meagher
November 1, 1999
(CNN) -- Since this is a review of a Kinsey Millhone mystery, perhaps it's appropriate that I begin with a confession. I don't simply read Sue Grafton novels. I inhale them through my eyes. I tend to zip through them so fast the turning of the pages kicks up a gale force wind. In short, I'm hooked. If Grafton ever reaches the letter "z" and retires Kinsey, I probably will be forced to start a support group for fellow addicts facing withdrawal (perhaps "Alphabet Anonymous").
The past crashes into the present when Kinsey is confronted with the news that Mickey Magruder has been shot. Mickey was her first husband. She walked out when he asked her to provide him a phony alibi in a manslaughter case. At the time, both were members of the Santa Teresa Police Department. Since their divorce more than a decade earlier, they had been out of touch. Now, Los Angeles police want to know why he was shot with a gun registered to her. Kinsey just wants to know why he was shot.
Her investigation re-opens old wounds. She re-establishes contact with the friends she and Mickey had at the time of their marriage, and follows leads that carry her even further into the past, into the political and social morass that was the Vietnam War. Each stop along the convoluted path gives Kinsey an opportunity to make the wry wisecracks that are as much her stock-in-trade as is her VW Beetle.
If you get the impression that I'm preaching to the converted, you're probably right. Grafton fans can be assured that the sort of storytelling they have grown accustomed to in the series is here in full force. If you're among the uninitiated, however, "'O' Is for Outlaw" is not a bad place to enter the world of Kinsey Millhone. There is much more personal information about her in this book than in most of the others. It's a way for a new reader to see the character of Kinsey in full flower.
Over the course of the series, which encompasses fifteen novels at this point, Grafton has honed her writing to a fine edge. Her characterizations are crisp and acutely drawn. Her descriptions of life along the California coast are vivid and eye filling. "The Pacific pulsated on my left," she writes. "The sea air felt as brittle as a sheet of glass. Like flint on stone, the late morning sun struck the waves in a series of sparks until I half expected the entire ocean to burst into flames."
The plot of "'O Is for Outlaw" follows the pattern of the other Millhone adventures. Kinsey gets her teeth into a problem and refuses to let go. Her single-minded pursuit of a solution takes her into ever increasing peril. The pacing increases exponentially, like an out-of-control logging truck racing down a California mountain road. And in the end, Kinsey has not only solved the problem but also exacted a measure of justice in the process.
In lesser hands, that kind of pattern might degenerate into a formula, resulting in a cookie-cutter series of books. Grafton, however, avoids the pitfalls with refreshing irreverence, thought-provoking insights and inventive plots. Anyone who enjoys contemporary American mysteries will find "'O' Is for Outlaws" a delight. For Grafton fans, it's the Kinsey Millhone fix they've needed. It should tide us over until the author decides what the letter "p" is for.
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