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The Twenty-fourth Alphabet
In 1982, Sue Grafton started her Kinsey Millhone Alphabet series, with A is for Alibi. She has gone through almost every alphabet in the English language, with W is for Wasted coming out in 2013. The latest in the series is X, just X, no ‘is for’ attached. As the bestselling author said in an interview she is entitled to break her own rules.
Kinsey Millhone is one of the most loveable characters in detective fiction, a single (with occasional, very brief romantic entanglements), independent, courageous, witty and totally kickass female, who through A to X has solved crimes and fought felons up and down her stomping ground of Santa Teresa, California. She lives in a studio apartment, owned by the octogenarian Henry Pitts, who is also an expert chef, and her best buddy. His fun family of long-living Pitts is like Kinsey’s surrogate clan, and their watering hole of choice is Rosie’s bar and restaurant owned by a ferocious Hungarian woman, who often feeds them foul-sounding delicacies from her homeland, with Kinsey’s preferred drink of chilled chardonnay.
The series has remained in the 1980s, so no cell phones, computers just about making an appearance, phones are rotary, and notes typed on manual typewriters or handwritten on index cards. The most advanced gizmo of the age is the copier. Even if this makes the books seem old-fashioned, it also lends them an unhurried charm.
In W, the down-at-heel detective Pete Wolinsky had been killed. In this book, his wife Ruthie, mysteriously threatened with a tax raid, requests Kinsey to check a box of his papers for any useful financial documents. What she find among other things, is a coded papers with six women’s names on it—all connected to a serial offender Ned Lowe-- and a package meant to have been delivered to his daughter April, fifteen years ago. While she is puzzling over this mystery, she has a problem of her own.
She was invited to a swanky mansion by a stylish, rich woman called Hallie Bettancourt, who wants her to track down her son, she gave up for adoption. The son, Christian Satterfield, happens to be a safe cracker and bank robber, just out of prison. Hallie pays Kinsey with marked currency notes that brings the cops down on her trail. Worse, when she goes back to check, the mansion shows no sign of habitation and her client cannot be traced. This gets Kinsey’s hackles up—how dare anybody cheat her?
As her work proceeds, in the backdrop is a severe water shortage turning to drought in California, that gets Henry into water-saving schemes, even if it means digging up his garden. Meanwhile, the new neighbours, an old couple Edna and Joseph, take full advantage of Henry’s kindness and pull their own little cons on him, much to Kinsey’s annoyance.
There are X’s sprinkled all over—a bank of X. Phillips, a wealthy transport baron Ari Xanakis and his divorced wife Teddy, the cause of a lot of Kinsey’s problems, a Father Xavier, and so on.
The culprit on whose trail Kinsey sets out, is just a small part of the book, but has left his vicious mark on several women. Even the usually equanimous Kinsey spooked out when she finds that he has trespassed into her office and left it off kilter.
Although there is murder, burglary, cheating and corruption in Sue Grafton books, the times are still relatively peaceful and most people inherently decent. The world is protected from terrorism, computer hacking and religious fundamentalism. Fans wonder what will happen to Kinsey Millhone when Grafton completes the ‘Z’ book. There are still a quite a few months to go, but the suspense is killing.
By Sue Grafton
Excerpt of X
I never hear the word "Nevada" without thinking of Robert Dietz. This coming May, we would celebrate our sixth anniversary of barely ever seeing each other. Truly, in the time I'd known him, I don't think we'd been together two months at a stretch, and that was only once. But now I needed his Nevada smarts and I dialed his number in Carson City. Three rings and his machine picked up. I listened to his message, which was terse and to the point. I waited for the beep and said, "Hey, Dietz. This is Kinsey. I need a favor from you. I'm looking for a woman named Susan Telford in Henderson, Nevada, and I wondered if you'd see what you can find out. There are thirty-three Telfords listed, and it doesn't make sense for me to tackle the job from Santa Teresa. Pete Wolinsky put her name on a list of six women who are all connected in one way or another to a man namedNed Lowe. Before Pete was killed, he went to some lengths to do background on Lowe, who seems like an all-around bad egg. If you have questions, call me back, and if you don't want to do the job, that's fine. Just let me know."
I decided it was time to convert my investigation into report form. I was formulating a sense of the relationship between Ned Lowe and the six women whose names appeared on Pete's list, but so far the link existed only in my head.
I'd inserted paper into my typewriter when the phone rang. "Millhone Investigations."
A gentleman with a powdery voice said, "Miss Millhone, this is Stanley Munce, formerly with the Burning Oaks Police Department. Clara Doyle told me you'd spoken to her about a case I worked on some years ago. Is that correct?"
"Yes, sir. Absolutely. Thank you so much for calling. I was asking about Lenore Redfern Lowe."
"That was my understanding. I'm afraid I don't have much to offer on the subject, but I will tell you what I can. I was the coroner's investigator at the time of that young girl's death. In order to complete a death certificate, the coroner has to determine the cause, mechanism, and manner of death.
"Simply put, cause of death is the reason the individual died, as would be the case with a heart attack or gunshot wound. The mechanism of death would be the actual changes that affect the victim's physiology, resulting in death. In death from a fatal stabbing, for instance, it might be extreme blood loss.
"The manner of death is how the death came about. Five of the six possibilities are natural, accidental, suicide, homicide, and undetermined. The sixth classification would be 'pending' if the matter's still under investigation, which is obviously not the case here. There was no question about her ingestion of Valium and alcohol. The generic diazepam is a central nervous system depressant, the effects of which can be intensified by alcohol. However, when the toxicology report came in, it appeared there wasn't a sufficient quantity of either to say with certainty death resulted from the combination of the two.
"What seemed questionable, at least in my mind, was the presence of petechiae, which are tiny broken blood vessels, like pinpricks, visible in the area of her eyes. Hard coughing or crying are common causes; sometimes the strain of childbirth or lifting weights. Petechiae can also be a sign of death by asphyxiation."
"You mean she might have been suffocated?"
"Smothered, yes. There were no fractures of the larynx, hyoid bone, thyroid or cricoid cartilages, and no areas of bruising, which ruled out manual strangulation. Mrs. Lowe had been under doctor's care. With her history of mental problems, absent any other compelling evidence, Dr. Wilkinson — the coroner — felt a finding of suicide was appropriate. I put up what objections I could, but I have no formal medical training, and his experience and expertise prevailed. For my part, I was never fully persuaded."
"So there was never an investigation into the circumstances of her death?"
"A cursory assessment, I'd say. Dr. Wilkinson was of the old school: high-handed and a bit of an autocrat. He was in charge, he made the judgment call, and he brooked no argument. I was putting my job at risk even to raise the few questions I did.
"I wish I could offer you more. It's bothered me for years but yours is the first question ever raised about that girl."
Which was not quite the case, but Stanley Munce couldn't know that. There had been another question raised in the matter, and that was Pete's.
I'd barely hung up when the phone rang again.
It was Dietz. He skipped right over the greetings and the chitchat. "What have you gotten yourself into?"
I felt like someone had thrown a bucket of water in my face. "You obviously know more than I do, so you tell me."
"I can tell you who Susan Telford is. Everybody in this part of the state knows who she is. She's a fourteen-year-old white female who disappeared two years ago."
I felt myself go still. "What happened to her?"
"She vanished. She might as well have gone up in smoke. The cops talked to everyone including vagrants and registered sex offenders."
"Nobody saw anything?"
Vishala Katta’s The Window Seat is about three runaways who end up journeying together. Written in a lucid style, the slim novel could do with some editing, but it works as a quick read on a long commute.
According to the synopsis, “When a dying corporate professional escapes into a train to somewhere, he finds himself become a storyteller of old mythological tales. Tagging along is ten year old Hari who is looking for his parents he lost in the trains. Together their adventures lead them to debating with priests, dancing with eunuchs, sharing meals and conversing casually about death with random strangers. A runaway wife tags along with these annoying mavericks. Taking her first train she is all ready to be an actress. That night, what begins as a harmless conversations changes their fate completely. What makes them hold on to each other for longer? Do they find what they were looking for? What happens when they bump into each other few years later? But do all of them make it alive? A window seat is all about those conversations with strangers that seem to change you unknowingly."
The Window Seat
By Vishala Katta