There are two (dead) men that we focus on in this novel — the first, Pete Wolinksy, I’m pretty sure we’ve met before. He did some work for the men that Kinsey apprenticed with, and she’s run across him at least once before in the novels (but I’m not going to run off an verify that). The other deceased individual was a homeless alcoholic who died on the beach with Kinsey’s name and phone number in a pocket. With business slow, and her back account healthy — that’s enough to let her curiosity take over and find out what happened to this man, and to find out why he was carrying her name.
Along the way, Kinsey finds some relatives from her father’s side of the family — in recent years, she’d learned a good deal about her mother’s family, but hadn’t looked into her father’s. Now she has the opportunity, and while she doesn’t find as much (for now), but it’s something. This allows her to reflect a little on her current relationship with her mother’s side, too. I appreciate Kinsey’s self-awareness about how whiny she is can be (and usually is) regarding her extended family and how she really doesn’t feel that way any more except out of habit. Hopefully, in the next book or two, we see some real development and some degree of closure with her maternal grandmother, aunts and cousins. I’ve read a lot of criticism lately (particularly focused on this book) about how little character development there’s been here. This book — the 23rd — takes place 5-6 years after A is for Alibi, right? So of course, the development will be incremental — that’s how people change in such a short amount of time. It seems natural to me.
The mysteries weren’t all that compelling to me, and mostly seemed to be excuses to expose Kinsey to her family, Dietz, and to allow her to comment on the homeless problem in Santa “Theresa.” It took me a long time to get/care about the subplot told in flashbacks — once I did figure it out, I felt pretty stupid, to tell you the truth. Regardless, it wasn’t the most interesting flashback sequence Grafton’s done. It was effective enough, I guess, it just seemed to be missing something.
The new stuff aside, what about our old friends? We got a little time with Henry — Henry as meddling, advise-giving, semi-authority figure. William is his regular annoying self, and his wife, Rosie, was around just enough. There was a quick appearance from Con Dolan, and another from Cheney Phillips. Best of all, we get to hang out with Robert Dietz for a few chapters, and see a slightly different part of him. It seems very likely, and maybe even probable, that we won’t be seeing (at least) one of these characters again, based on what we saw here (and the number of books left).
The main quibble I have with this one is the dialogue — too often it’s just dreadful here. Painful to read — some of these characters read like technical manuals, or brochures for a tourism board. I’d b e willing to bet another editing pass from Grafton could’ve taken care of almost every flat, dull, or expositional line of conversation. But at this point, who’s going to make Grafton do something like that? If she catches it on her own, great — but there’s no editor in the world that’ll hold her feet to the fire.
Not her best work, there was almost no suspense at all here, and at a certain point, the whodunit became so obvious it was almost impossible to care about any more. But Grafton did enough to keep my interest and keep my fingers turning pages, and that’s enough. Kinsey’s never been the flashiest P.I. around — she’s stable, down to earth, and gets the job done. Which is pretty much what we got here.