Kinsey Millhone is back and in double trouble in Santa Teresa. Who benefits most by the death or disappearance of a prominent local doctor? Kinsey is hired by the doctor's ex-wife, but the suspects pile up as she discovers that his hot young new wife is apparently dallying with her personal trainer, the ex herself is strapped for cash to maintain her expensive life style, and the good doctor has been embroiled in a Medicare billing scheme scandal at the nursing home where he is chief of staff.
Kinsey's double jeopardy explodes when she decides to move out of the safe but stultifying confines of the lawyer's office, where she's sublet a small office for a couple of years. A quaint private office becomes available across the alley from her convenient downtown location and it seems a dream come true. The new landlords, however, are involved in some very bad business, and it's this subplot of the latest in Grafton's alphabet series that spins the story along.
All of our favorite characters are back --- Rosie's Hungarian menus keep Kinsey from starvation and having to cook, Henry's friendship and charm (and chutzpah) are called upon to rescue her from a stalker, then there's her cop ex-boyfriend and office gossip pals filling out the usual interesting population in this her 16th novel in 18 years. Yes, even the ubiquitous black dress is called into play for a funeral.
Now, if Kinsey would just show her age! She began way back in 1982 in A IS FOR ALIBI as a greenhorn, 32 year old sleuth. Nineteen years later she has aged exactly four years to age 36. When I picked up my first Kinsey Millhone mystery in 1983, I was a tad older than this feisty protagonist but could identify readily with her frustrations, triumphs, and misadventures in the wonderful escapist manner that most mystery buffs embrace. As Ms. Grafton stated in a recent interview, she ages Kinsey about one year for every two and a half chronological years, which would technically make Kinsey 38 going on 39. This places her on a couple of cusps that could lead to interesting plot-rich sub plots --- turning 40 and entering the '90s, but neither is happening.
OK --- a show of hands here: Giving Kinsey the benefit of the doubt on her age, how many of you had, or knew how to operate, a computer in 1986? How about a pager? Kinsey uses neither, much to my total frustration. Even Henry uses a computer, for Pete's sake! Think of the fun we could have at Kinsey's expense as she struggles with computerese, power outages, and lost saves. She could even meet an interesting –-- or, better yet, dangerous –-- new man who comes to show her the ropes.
One of the most endearing qualities that Kinsey brought to her early readers was the identity with her age group. And as an early fan, can I now identify with her being so stuck in mid-'80s technology? I'd like to suggest to Ms. Grafton that she speed up her aging machine to a minimum of a book per year of age. If she doesn't, by 2011, when she hits Z IS FOR ZILCH --- which may be the number of first fans still around --- Kinsey will be just rounding the turn at 40. Will modern women in that age group identify with a heroine who uses 3 x 5 cards and pay phones? The famous and popular alphabet series is rapidly joining the historical mystery sub-genre. I want my Kinsey to kick more modern butt!
There's one potential plot problem here. The wonderful and endearing Henry, on whom Kinsey clearly has a crush, is now a very lively 84 years old. If he were to be subjected to the speeded up aging machine, he'd be over 90. Not a problem. I know some very foxy and cagey nonagenarians –-- wouldn't hurt the story a bit! He could get a birthday greeting from Willard Scott on "The Today Show" before the series is over. Now that would be a hoot.
It's time to grow up, Kinsey. We love your mysteries, but your faithful fans are outdistancing you. Get with the program, girlfriend!
Reviewed by Roz Shea (HOST BKPG ROZ) on June 4, 2001