Tomorrow is release date for Sue Grafton's U is for Undertow. If you've been disappointed by recent books in the series, don't hesitate to pick this one up. Of course, I'm a cold case fan, so I'm prejudiced, but I think this is the best Kinsey Millhone investigation in recent years.
In April 1988, Kinsey accepted an unusual case. Michael Sutton was referred to her by a police detective who thought there just might be something to his story. Sutton thought it was possible he had information about the disappearance of a four-year-old girl, Mary Claire Fitzhugh, in 1967. Her body was never found, but as a six-year-old, he remembered two men digging a hole, men who admitted they were pirates, to a young boy's pleasure. Twenty-one years later, when the story of the little girl's kidnapping was in the newspaper as an unsolved case, it occurred to Sutton that he might have seen the kidnappers.
The police were right. Kinsey did like to pick at cases, and she was willing to spend a little time trying to find an unmarked grave. In the next two weeks, she found odd clues, ranging from a dead dog to another kidnapped little girl. She also learned how unreliable her client was. How can a detective trust the story told by an unreliable witness?
While working on Sutton's case, Kinsey took care of other business, including her own family issues. After not having a family for so many years, she's overwhelmed by their requests for her attention. A couple people, including her cousin, continue to push, while Kinsey pushes back against the family. Finally, a set of letters pushes her to do her own investigation.
Kinsey is still Kinsey Millhone, stuck in the 1980s, and living her Spartan life. I loved a paragraph in which Kinsey is trying to look sharp while meeting her cousin, a paragraph that sums up Kinsey's lifestyle perfectly. "I'd been using a hand-knit wool scarf along the bottom of the door to the upstairs bath, keeping out the drafts that crept through the crack where there should have been a threshold. I snatched up the scarf, shook off a few woofies, and slung it around my neck....I was as they say, a sight for sore eyes."
As others have said, since Kinsey is stuck in the 1980s, she never ages, but she also doesn't have access to the technology we use today - no Internet, no computer, no cell phone. She's impressed with the fax machine she uses at a notary's. As a librarian who worked in the 1980s, though, Kinsey's use of the public library for reference makes me nostalgic. It's wonderful to see someone who still pulls the directories, making practical use of the reference tools available.
Sue Grafton is a true master at changing the styles of her books, keeping them fresh after twenty-one books. U is for Undertow incorporates Kinsey's viewpoint, along with accounts of people who were involved in events surrounding the 1967 kidnappings. It's fascinating to read the earlier stories, wondering how those people intersect with Kinsey Millhone's latest case. Kinsey hints at the beginning of the case, when she says, "Here's the odd part. In my ten years as a private eye, this was the first case I ever managed to resolve without crossing paths with the bad guys. Except at the end, of course."
It's an odd case for Kinsey Millhone. And, it's a wonderful book for Sue Grafton. U is for Undertow, a cold case, is my favorite Grafton in quite a while. If you've given up on the recent books, pick this one up. And, if you read every one of Kinsey Millhone's adventures, this is a 416 page, comfortable, satisfying book.
Sue Grafton's website is www.suegrafton.com
U is for Undertow by Sue Grafton. G.P. Putnam's Sons, ©2009. ISBN 9780399155970 (hardcover), 416p.
FTC Full Disclosure - I received my copy of U is for Undertow from Sue Grafton's publisher, as a thank you, with no guarantee I would review the book.