This is the V book of Sue Grafton‘s long running and successful alphabetical series of crime novels – starting with A is for Alibi – featuring private detective Kinsey Millhone.
The story begins with a flashback to the Las Vegas killing of a kid gambler who could not pay his debts to a mobster. Then the action switches to ‘now’: Kinsey playing her part in catching a shoplifter who, on release from police custody, turns up dead beneath Cold Spring Bridge, a well known local suicide spot. The shoplifter’s fiance, ignorant of her criminal activities, hires Kinsey to investigate. Her investigations discover a large scale criminal operation, and she crosses the path of some of the principal players as, slowly but surely, she gets to the bottom of it all. (Incidentally, the ‘now’ of Kinsey Millhone is the 1980s.)
I have read all of the books in the series. The first dozen or so were terrific. Sometime after that, there seemed to be a conflict in the goal of each book between Grafton’s desire to deliver an interesting crime story, and to deliver an interesting story about her detective. For example, Kinsey came across distant family and there was some soul searching about whether she wanted to renew, maintain, or discard the connections. Frankly, it was not interesting and took the gloss off some of her books. However, Grafton seems to have moved on from these diversions, and the local color is now satisfyingly kept by Kinsey’s interactions with her retired baker neighbor, Henry (and his relatives) and the crew at a local Hungarian eatery.
Grafton’s characterization is solid. Apart from the superbly realized Kinsey, she does excellent work with several other players on the stage – like the mobster and his new love interest.
This book has a straightforward plot, but it provides an excellent framework for the characters to interact, and the story is plausible, interesting, and entertaining. In short, it’s a good one; one of her best.