Main characters: Kinsey Millhone
Time and place: Fresh Beach, California; 1983
First sentence: “The Ocean Street Motel in Floral Beach, California, is located, oddly enough, on Ocean Street, a stone’s throw from the sea wall that slants ten feet down toward the Pacific.”
Summary: “Every violent death represents the climax of one story and an introduction to its sequel.”
Seventeen years before, the body of Jean Timberlake has been found on the beach. At the time, her ex-boyfriend, Bailey, pleaded guilty and went to jail, only to escape one year after and disappear into the world.
Bailey’s luck lasted for almost two decades, only to give way when he was arrested due to a confusion (he happened to use the same name as a wanted criminal!). He was let go then once the mistake was found, but one of the detectives got suspicious and run a search for his fingerprints. His past discovered, Bailey ended up in jail again. However he now denies his initial acceptance of guilt, and his father wants the matter cleared up once and for all.
Thus enters Kinsey Millhone.
I am somewhat of a fan of Kinsey Millhone’s. I really like her no-nonsense persona (I am more of a scaredy mouse type, and it was probably natural for me to be attracted to a type so much different than my own) and her courage in getting involved with all sort of people in all sort of situations. As usual, in this book we get to find out some more details about her, a few more bits of the puzzle that she is. Some of them amusing (such as the discovery that she’s, in her own words, “a bad-ass private eye who swoons in the same room with a needle“), some of them rather touching (more of her feelings regarding the loss of her parents at a tender age).
As for the other characters, we don’t get to know any of them that well, due to their paths crossing Kinsey only when needed, and that for a very short while. However, Kinsey is very observant and a good judge of character, so we do get to know at least some parts of what makes some of them tick. Taking for example Bailey’s mother, Oribelle, a former beauty but now ravaged by diabetes, heroically trying not to complain and yet complaining all day; Bailey’s father, the type used to ordering people around, now trying to get to grips with the fact that he has little more to live and his strength is seeping day by day; the reverend of the Baptist church, acting like a pious person when in fact he isn’t precisely that behind closed doors; and many more. Bailey himself is an interesting character, albeit somewhat mysterious (and very good at fending for himself when needed); overall, the reader ends up rooting for him (a good thing too, as it was kinda obvious he didn’t do it because… well, that’s how it is in this kind of books :P ).
There’s not much I can say about the plot, since the Alphabet books are more or less all similar in that department: Kinsey is on the case, Kinsey starts asking questions, Kinsey is getting closer to solving the case, Kinsey is (usually) threatened by the criminal, Kinsey (sometimes) gets hurt in the altercation, the case is nevertheless solved, the end. The charm is nevertheless in the details, and these, of course, are not to be disclosed so as not to spoil the story.
One of the things I find amusing with the books in these series is that, while the things in the first one happened in about the same year (1982 I think) the book was published, the distance between reality and fiction slowly increases. For example this one was released in 1985 but the things in it happen in 1983. That is of course easily explained by the fact that in real life the author releases about one book per year, whereas in Kinsey’s timeline only a few months pass between cases. I am however looking forward to the more recent books (with an even larger margin), to see whether cellphones or the Internet (or other such novelties) are going to make an impromptu appearance. :)
Speaking of the series, so far I enjoyed all the books, and I am impressed by the fact that so far the author never repeated herself (in terms of characters and their actions). However I did notice a pattern throughout: whenever Kinsey has to investigate something that happened years before, whoever did the deed (that cannot be pinned on him/her, else it would have been so all those years ago) gets nervous and starts killing more people. This I think is in order to satisfy the reader’s sense of justice: as the guilty part cannot be convicted, for various reasons, of the old deed, there are these new deeds so the said guilty part will be convicted nevertheless.
A favorite quote:
I thought about my papa. I was five when he left me . . . five when he went away. [...] When had it dawned on me that he was gone for good? When had it dawned on Ann that Royce was never going to come through? And what of Jean Timberlake? None of us had survived the wounds our fathers inflicted all those years ago. Did he love us? How would we ever know? He was gone and he’d never again be what he was to us in all his haunting perfection. If love is what injures us, how can we heal?
Thoughts on the ending: This was one of those books where everyone comes under suspicion at one time or another, making it impossible (at least for me) to guess who the killer was. To my
delight chagrin, the one person who did it was the one person I didn’t suspect at all. Yay! :)
What I liked most: The idea of having it all happen in such a small (eighteen blocks) town. For some reason it made it all seem both more intimate and also more creepy (since everyone knows everyone it means that everyone has talked to and smiled at the killer plenty of times). The part regarding the “Family Crisis Squad” was also quite fun to imagine :)
On the kitchen counter, I could see a tuna casserole with crushed potato chips on top, a ground beef and noodle bake, and two Jell-O molds (one cherry with fruit cocktail, one lime with grated carrots), which Ann asked me to refrigerate. It had only been an hour and a half since [event]. I didn’t think gelatin set up that fast, but these Christian ladies probably knew tricks with ice cubes that would render salads and desserts in record time for just such occasions. I pictured a section in the ladies’ auxiliary church cookbook for Sudden Death Quick Snacks… using ingredients one could keep on the pantry shelf in the event of tragedy
What I liked least: I loved the book up until one of the last paragraphs, where there was something I didn’t quite understand. The real criminal was (of course) apprehended, but no proofs were found regarding Jean’s murder. So the police couldn’t actually prove that the said criminal was the one who killed Jean, yet Bailey was set free — why? How come, since no one has proven him not guilty of the said murder?
Recommend it to? Everyone who loves mysteries :)
Next in the same series:
G Is For Gumshoe
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