W is for Wow! In the “V” installment, Kinsey Millhone had returned with a Vengeance.
Now, perennial bestselling author Sue Grafton --- the queen of Alphabet Soup-titled mysteries --- returns with her most profound creation. Despite tangential asides, she weaves loose threads into a titillating tapestry. Even “Ed the cat” plays an integral role. (I predict “Ed” is a subliminal prognostication for Edgar Award.) Grafton, named Grand Master by Mystery Writers of America, suggests “Wasted” refers to losses due to substance and alcohol abuse. Here, it infers the wasted lives of the homeless. However, “The homeless do not want our pity, nor do they deserve our scorn.”
Kinsey is an average Jo, “a jeans-and-boots kind of gal.” Apparent unrelated events weave her into a tangled web. “Two dead bodies changed the course of my life. One of them I knew and the other I’d never laid eyes on until I saw him in the morgue.” Little wonder Kinsey’s language has become as salty as the Dead Sea. “I recited a string of cuss words, calling up some of the really nasty four-letter jobs that trip so refreshingly off the tongue.”
"Impeccable plot, prose as rich as Wall Street, and everyone’s favorite private eye make W IS FOR WASTED a surefire bestseller, Grafton’s greatest novel ever."
It’s summer 1988, and the cost of a postage stamp recently increased to 25 cents. Kinsey is 38 and learns her family tree has gnarly branches. Her paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Rebecca Dace, mother of Kinsey’s dad, Randy Millhone, who was the “favorite uncle” of Terrance Dace. (Kinsey’s parents died in an accident when she was five.)
Kinsey observes, “Dace had made a mess of his life. Drink and drugs aside, he’d been dealt a bad hand. He spent 12 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.” Exonerated, Dace sues and collects a sizable settlement, putting Kinsey in a quandary. Now homeless, Dace’s adult progeny reject him, so he creates a will naming Kinsey executor and sole beneficiary.
Dace had formed an alliance with fellow homeless denizens Dandy, Pearl and Felix. But now, Dace dies, apparently possessing only the clothes he wore and Kinsey’s name on a note in his pocket. The coroner calls Kinsey to identify the body. She hasn’t a clue, but her investigative nature dictates a forensic analysis of the area where the body was found. There, she encounters Dace’s three friends, who reveal that Dace had something secret in his backpack stolen by nefarious “Boggarts” from a hobo camp near the zoo.
Then there’s private investigator Pete Wolinsky, who “was morally shabby, disorganized, and irresponsible with money.” He’s hired to investigate suspected dalliances of Mary Lee Bryce, who works with the respected and charismatic Dr. Linton Reed. However, “Reed was a bad egg. He was a man who cut corners,” a discredited surgeon who now orchestrates a research team testing a recalled drug used to curb alcohol cravings in homeless people, including Dace. The double-blind study isn’t so blind.
These are a few of the myriad mysteries wonderfully wrapped up in this wondrous W. While Kinsey has learned to leap hurdles in her career, Sue Grafton has become an Olympic-class pole-vaulter in hers. Impeccable plot, prose as rich as Wall Street, and everyone’s favorite private eye make W IS FOR WASTED a surefire bestseller, Grafton’s greatest novel ever.
Reviewed by L. Dean Murphy on September 13, 2013