This is the latest offering in the long-running series about P.I. Kinsey Millhone, For those of you who haven’t picked up a Grafton alphabet thriller, starting with A is for Alibi which was published way back in 1982, you may not be aware that Grafton’s spiky female detective was a trailblazer. Back in the day, women detectives weren’t exactly thick on the ground and the fact that so many of them now exist is in no small part a tribute to Grafton’s successful series.
However, thirty years after the first book was published, the question has to be asked – is V for Vengeance a worthy addition to this world famous franchise? Does the latest novel still have the sparky freshness that made it fly off the shelves all those years ago?
In Las Vegas, a young college graduate decides to borrow a large amount of money to stake his new career as a professional poker player. However, things don’t end well when the money is funded by the notorious criminal Lorenzo Dante. Two years later, Kinsey Millhone finds herself watching a woman, Audrey Vance, shoplifting a number of items and helps in her capture. Events take a much darker turn when Audrey’s body is discovered beneath the Cold Spring Bridge, a local suicide spot.
Meanwhile, Lorenzo Dante is becoming weary of his criminal activities and very much aware that the police are steadily closing in. He has other concerns – his faltering love affair; his increasingly mentally impaired father who founded the current organisation; and above all, his younger brother Cappi, whose impulsive and dangerous behaviour has posed all sorts of problems. As Kinsey’s enquiries reach a dramatic head, it becomes clear that she and Dante have one thing in common – they must be careful who they trust…
As is apparent from the blurb, there are a number of plotlines weaving their way through this book and Kinsey’s ongoing investigation and everyday life is only one strand in this book. Do the other characters manage to provide sufficient balance against Kinsey’s powerful, established narrative voice? Absolutely. The book starts with a bang, and while Grafton has always been about steadily winding up the tension throughout her books, this one really had me reading into the wee small hours. I particularly enjoyed Dante’s character – Grafton managed to make a criminal boss seem charming and vulnerable, which is a testament to her writing ability. Indeed, Dante even beguiles Kinsey into cutting him some slack – the only grizzle I had with the whole plot, as I think she is far too hard-edged and unforgiving with lawbreakers to suddenly acquire a soft spot for Dante. However, it is a minor niggle when set against the sheer excellence of the characters; the superb handling of the small details that breathe life into Kinsey’s daily activities; the steady increase in the narrative tension as we uncover the layers of secrecy surrounding all the major protagonists, with the exception of Kinsey. Until the wonderful reveal at the end, which gives the book its title and provides a brilliant extra dimension to one of the major conflict points throughout the novel.
And this is where I think that Grafton has been so very clever. I enjoy reading a number of successful long-running series featuring a single main protagonist and what most of them feel forced to do, is to continue providing extra surprises from their main character’s past. Grafton doesn’t see the need to go down this avenue – Kinsey Millhone is a character that we now know very well, as throughout the books we have learnt all about her difficult upbringing, her suspicious nature, her methodical approach to her work and her complete inability to cook, along with a dozen other traits. So while the main narrative voice is in Kinsey’s viewpoint, we are treated to a new cast of characters involved in her investigation, who have their own agendas. This also prevents the books becoming formulaic and predictable.
All in all, I think V is for Vengeance is a triumph. For my money, it is the best of the series so far – and for Grafton to be writing at this level thirty years after her first book is a testament to her talent and inventiveness. And leaves me with a nagging worry that increases with the passing years – once Grafton has published Z is for Zero, where do I go for my new slice of Kinsey Millhone magic?