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Bookends: Family matters complicate both the mystery and the detective August 16, 2012

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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By Dan Davidson

July 4, 2012

– 867 words –


“J” is for Judgment 

by Sue Grafton

St. Martin’s Paperbacks

384 pages

$ 9.99


Unabridged Audiobook

Random House Audio

Narrated by Mary Peiffer

9 hours and 16 minutes



There are little bits of homage that run through a lot of mystery novels. A couple of weeks back I mentioned that the late Robert B. Parker had gained his doctorate writing about the very hard boiled private eyes that would become the template from which his Spenser novels evolved.

Ross Macdonald was one of the masters of the form that Parker studied. Macdonald is not well known these days, perhaps partly because Paul Newman refused to have his character named Archer in the movie versions of two of the novels. Macdonald was actually Kenneth Millar, an American-Canadian who spent the last 30 years of his life living in Santa Barbara, California, where most of Lew Archer’s mysteries took place. Only Macdonald altered the name to Santa Teresa.

(Archer, by the way, is a nod in the direction of Miles Archer, who was Sam Spade’s murdered partner in Dashiell Hammett’s classic The Maltese Falcon.)

Those who have followed the Kinsey Millhone mysteries will now have realized why I opened with these comments. Santa Teresa is where Sue Grafton’s private eye has been having her adventures in alphabetical order since 1982.

She borrowed ideas from two other mystery novelists as well. The books in John D, MacDonald’s Travis McGee series usually have a colour reference in the titles. Harry Kemeleman’s Rabbi David Small books used the days of the week, at least for the first seven of the 12 books in that series.

Grafton was ambitious from the start and began with A is for Alibi. Her most recent novel began with the letter “V” so she hasn’t got that far to go, though it’s taken her thirty years to get this far.

“J” is for Judgment is number 10 in the series and it returns Kinsey to her roots in a way. She used to work for the California Fidelity Insurance Agency as a freelancer in exchange for office space and other considerations. That relationship had come to a dramatic conclusion when a new boss arrived at the agency, but now they find that they need her back so, while her office is now elsewhere, she has that connection again.

The case is one in which a man had appeared to die at sea some years earlier after his investment firm was involved in a ponzi scheme. After much litigation his wife collected on his insurance policy. Now the man has been spotted in Mexico and the company wants Kinsey to track him down so they can get their money back.

This turns out to be both easier and more difficult than it might seem, and Kinsey has quite the little vacation while following the slender leads that do take her to an almost positive identification of Wendell Jaffe, who is living under the name of Dean DeWitt Huff with Renata, who was the original Dean’s wife.

Following more leads back home, Kinsey meets Jaffe’s wife, Dana, and her son and his new wife, a child bride and new mother with delusions of adulthood. She also meets Jaffe’s former partner Carl Eckert, and eventually gets to know Renata quite well, if it is actually possible to get to know Renata. Then there’s Jaffe’s troubled other son, Brian, who is probably the reason why Jaffe surfaced so close to the border.

During the course of her investigation she meets a couple with an interest in genealogy. They get interested in her name, which is one they recognize, and give her the mixed blessing of a family reunion. Kinsey was raised by her maiden aunt after the death of her parents in a car accident, and she knows very little about her relatives due to the rift in the family that was caused by her parent’s marriage. She doesn’t even know about that, so the initial approaches by her cousins and the news that she has a living grandmother are quite traumatic events for her. We can expect to learn more about the family in volume “K”.

Meanwhile, at home, her landlord Henry’s hypochondriac brother, William, has proposed marriage to Rose, who owns the local bar where Kinsey often hangs out. Rose is a matronly tough lady and William, like Henry, is in his eighties. We met William in the previous book, when he arrived to upset the even tenor of Henry’s life. Henry’s not sure the new situation is any improvement.

Kinsey manages to tie off all the elements of the mystery to the company’s satisfaction, but not to her own. The final scene with Renata suggests a whole new level of duplicity and mayhem, which may have roots reaching far into that strange woman’s past.

Mary Peiffer has been the main reader on all of these unabridged Random House productions, and she does a very good job of bringing Kinsey to life.

As you can see, these books a timed to make pretty good listening on our long Yukon drives.








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