U IS FOR UNDERTOW by Sue Grafton

Book Quote:

“I work solo out of a rented bungalow in Santa Teresa, California…. Movies and television shows would have you believe a PI’s job is dangerous, but nothing could be farther from the truth…except, of course, on the rare occasions when someone tries to kill me. Then I’m ever so happy my health insurance premiums are paid up.”

Book Review:

Review by Eleanor Bukowsky (DEC 1, 2009)

Sue Grafton’s U is for Undertow takes place in 1988, with key flashbacks to 1967, the so-called “Summer of Love.” Kinsey Millhone, who is thirty-seven, is the veteran of two failed marriages and has no desire to take the plunge again. Most of her time is devoted to her work as a private investigator, and she occasionally socializes with a small group of friends, including her eighty-eight year old landlord, Henry Pitts. Henry is Kinsey’s confidante and surrogate grandfather.

Kinsey’s latest case involves twenty-six year old Michael Sutton, who claims that he recently recalled an event that occurred when he was just six years old. In July of 1967, four-year-old Mary Claire Fitzhugh was abducted from her home in Horton Ravine, California. Although her parents readily agreed to pay the ransom demanded by the kidnappers, the money was never picked up and the child was never seen again. Sutton remembers that around that time, he was playing in the woods when he saw two men digging a hole and burying a bundle in the ground. No suspects were ever identified, and Sutton believes that it is unlikely that the police will reopen the investigation. Still, he cannot help but wonder if the men were burying the corpse of little Mary Claire. With nowhere else to turn, he asks Kinsey to look into the matter.

Although Millhone is far from an imposing physical specimen, she has weapons in her arsenal that can be more effective than brute force: She is smart, intensely curious, and reluctant to give up once she is faced with an intriguing puzzle. If the facts do not add up, she shuffles the index cards on which she records the evidence and tries to see matters from a different perspective. Sooner or later, she usually connects the dots. This case involves the usual ingredients that propel most mysteries: long buried secrets, dysfunctional families, greed, and stupidity. Grafton provides us with a poignant glimpse into Kinsey’s early family life that will help explain why she is slow to trust and has become a loner who is, at times, bitter and cynical. In Grafton’s world, family is at the center of everything good and bad in our lives. The bloody conflicts between relatives can resemble a mini-Civil War, with mutilated bodies from both sides littering the battlefield. Sadly, the winners often wind up suffering as much as the losers.

Grafton is a craftswoman whose solid descriptive writing, crisp dialogue, and well-constructed plot keep U is for Undertow moving along swiftly and satisfyingly. The author’s flashbacks are not merely gimmicks to pad the story. They are essential elements that bring clarity to a tragic series of events whose roots lie in the past. What is also entertaining about Grafton’s books is that they pre-date the technological revolution. Kinsey does her research in the library, by consulting yearbooks, telephone directories, and microfilm of old newspaper articles! No computers or cell phones are in evidence. This is how things were done before facts become readily available with the click of a mouse or the touch of a button.

Grafton is held in high esteem among her fans, peers, and critics (she was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America). The reason may be that, in each of her novels, she constructs a self-contained world that is enriched with intriguing historical, psychological, and sociological themes that make her stories not just whodunits, but three-dimensional works of fiction.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 392 readers
PUBLISHER: Putnam Adult (December 1, 2009)
REVIEWER: Eleanor Bukowsky
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
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December 1, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: 2009 Favorites, California, Family Matters, Sleuths Series, y Award Winning Author

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