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Broken noses and boredom are the standard hazards of detective work, especially if Kinsey Millhone is any indication. V is for Vengeance is an entertaining account of how the California private investigator manages to break her long-suffering nose for the third time in her eventful career. That too on her 38th birthday.
Not that Kinsey's old acquaintances will be at all surprised. For in a career spanning 22 novels, the feisty Ms Millhone has been shot at while hiding in trashcans, edged off the road into slimy ponds and publicly humiliated. But the spunky detective always manages to bounce back, shed her bandages and outwit her powerful adversaries.
For those who've never ventured into the Santa Teresa of the 1980s before, here's a quick recap: Kinsey Millhone is a sleuth who spends her working week tackling insurance fraud, tracing missing relatives, tailing duplicitous spouses and conducting background checks for lawyers. All of which sounds tedious and straightforward, but invariably take on ugly, dangerous overtones. Weekends she spends vacuuming her tiny apartment, scrubbing the pot and avoiding the many baddies that she's enraged in the course of the week.
The protagonist of the Alphabet Mysteries lives in smoggy, briny Santa Teresa (a fictionalized town based on Santa Barbara) and does a three-mile jog on the beach every weekday morning. Then she promptly undoes the good work by rushing to the nearest fast food outlet and snarfing down a greasy quarter-pounder with fries. Kinsey cuts her unruly brown hair herself with a pair of nail scissors. She has one all-purpose black dress for funerals and swish dinners. Otherwise she wear jeans and turtleneck t-shirts - most of which she buys from "low-end chain stores, where aisles are jammed with racks of identical garments, suggesting cheap manufacture in a country unfettered by child labor laws". So it's only to be expected that she will bump into trouble when she strays into the elegant, perfumed realm of Nordstrom's.
Kinsey ventures into the upmarket department store when she sees an advertisement announcing a sale of ladies' underpants. It's while she's debating the merits of high-cut briefs versus hiphuggers that she notices a hefty woman in her fifties surreptitiously slipping two pairs of satin pajamas and a lace teddy into her bag. Kinsey quickly alerts the sales clerk who in turn summons the security officer to nab the shoplifter.
A few readers may complain about the absence of an 'aha' moment. But most will be only too happy to spend time with their favourite female detective who - despite constant financial worries, two divorces and hours spent in dispiriting surveillance operations - still retains her humour, commonsense and faith in human nature.
Grafton has announced that her series, which began with A is for Alibi, will end with Z is for Zero when Kinsey turns 40. Already panicked fans must be experiencing acute withdrawal symptoms.
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