Ever since I read A Is for Alibi, 13 books ago, I've been hooked on the adventures of Kinsey Millhone, Sue Grafton's private investigator, who works out of Santa Teresa, California. I have followed Kinsey through B Is for Burglar, C Is for Corpse, all the way through M Is for Malice. The 14th in the series, N Is for Noose, is the best yet, and all of them rate five diamonds. Kinsey is brave, bright, funny, and human. I hurt for her when she's about to get a tetanus shot: The nurse comes back "holding the you-know-what on a little plastic tray like a snack." I chew the inside of my lip when fear shoots through her "like a bottle rocket, lighting my insides with a shower of adrenaline." I worry about her diet when she picks up a "pack of chips and a can of Pepsi" for dinner.
The setting for N Is for Noose is Nota Lake, a threadbare town on the eastern edge of the Sierras (ten gas stations and 22 motels), that caters to the less-than-wealthy ski crowd. Selma Newquist, the widow of a detective in the sheriff's department, hires Kinsey to find out why her husband, Tom, had been so distraught in the several weeks before his fatal heart attack. Kinsey has her doubts about the assignment, figuring Tom's behavior could be blamed on failing health or who knows what. She starts with no clues, several times coming close to backing out. Tom was respected. His colleagues liked him. He didn't seem to be messing around with other women. His finances were in order. Kinsey dutifully follows a few flimsy leads, and we're right there with her, wondering where she's being led. Then, as she digs deeper, she unearths more than she expected, and soon we're immersed in a can't-put-it-down adventure.
I'm not about to give the plot away, but it twists and turns in the most satisfying way. As in all the Kinsey Millhone books, she is real. The words on paper disappear, and we are with her, whether she is bemoaning her housekeeping, "Every time I buy parsley, it turns to slime," or reacting to a hunk, "I allowed myself one small inaudible whine of the sort heard only by dogs." If Kinsey were to step off the page, I would recognize her, understand her better than my own sister, sympathize with her frailties and shortcomings.
If this is your introduction to Sue Grafton's Alphabet Series, beware! You will find you need to make more shelf space for all 14 books, plus those to come. If you have already met Kinsey Millhone, join her growing fan club, waiting not-so-patiently for her next adventure, O Is for . . . ?
Reviewed by Cynthia Riggs.