“X” by Sue Grafton (Putnam, $28.95) is the 24th book in her popular, best-selling Alphabet mystery series starring California private detective Kinsey Millhone.
Over the years, dedicated readers have enjoyed her entertaining novels, which began with “A is for Alibi”, back in 1982.
Grafton’s latest dark convoluted tale covers two weeks in 1989, with Millhone getting involved in three odd cases that really aren’t connected.
Initially, Millhone is hired by a wealthy woman who’s trying to find a recently released bank robber. Hallie Bettancourt claims that she is his birth mother; but it’s actually part of a distinctively devious plan.
Millhone discovers that the woman is intentionally deceiving her, and uses a variety of clever methods to uncover the truth.
A second sub-plot focuses on two new neighbors, an elderly couple who are taking advantage of Millhone’s landlord Henry. She has her own suspicions about them, but proving her theories becomes challenging.
Millhone is also working without pay, trying to bring closure to a few unsolved cases left behind by Pete Wolinsky, a recently murdered private investigator who was an associate. She makes an unusual discovery; soon she is in danger, with a clever serial killer who’s determined to hide his past.
“X” unfortunately, is a bit of a disappointment; at 401 pages it feels padded - almost as if an editor told her to throw in more description and add a hundred pages.
The conflict resolution of the first sub-plot doesn’t seem exceptionally plausible, considering all of the anger issues and deception.
Later, the author goes on at length about the California water shortage of 1989 and the problems of water-rationing. Although this may seem relevant when compared to today’s California water crises, it’s likely to bore all but the most determined readers.
There’s considerably more action in the last 100 pages, but some readers may feel it’s too late, having dozed off frequently mid-book and really not caring that much about many of the characters.
Grafton, whose father was a noted crime novelist, has only two more books to go before she completes her Alphabet mystery series.
Her loyal fans will be waiting in line for her next releases, even if they’re titled “Y is for Yawning” or “Z is for Zombie”.
Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious book Shop, has been reviewing crime novels and Michigan books regularly since 1987.
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This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on October 18, 2015.