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Reviews of books in a series, with a focus on urban fantasy.
Other genres include mystery, paranormal romance, and crime thrillers.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Kinsey Millhone Alphabet series by Sue Grafton

I've heard a number of people talk about the Kinsey Millhone series, and I found a hardback of the first three books at my local used book store and decided to try it out. After reading the first three books I went back and got the next two books, which were also hardbacks that included three books each. I don't think I would have paid full price for these books, but they are worth what I paid for them this way. I've made it to "H", and I can see the basic formula of each book.
  • A teaser for something that is going to happen at some point in this book
  • A little bit of catch-up from the previous book, which really should have been at the end of the previous book (more on that later)
  • Kinsey runs around asking questions and calling utility companies and schools and going to the library (the book is set in the 80's, so no cell phones and no internet)
  • Solving the crime
  • A few pages of "OMG, she's going to die!!!!"
  • She manages to get the bad guy and remain alive (though sometimes beaten up or non-fatally shot), at which point there is an abrupt end of the story, with maybe a paragraph or two epilogue to tie it up in an unsatisfying manor
Sometimes I like the author's detailed descriptions, other times I just don't have it in me to read through two paragraphs telling me about someone's eyes and haircut and I end up skimming to make sure nothing important is in that section so I can get to the action again. The author definitely has a way with words, a phrase that immediately comes to mind is her description of a dog that barks while Kinsey is trying to get close to a house to see what's going on (by looking through a window) and the author wants us to understand this is not a yappy dog. She tells us something along the lines of "this is a dog that barks from his balls". See what I mean? I like those kinds of descriptions. One sentence and I immediately know just what she's talking about.

Our main character, Kinsey, lives alone and doesn't deal well with authority, so she is no longer a police officer and now works for herself as a private detective. Unlike (for instance) Stephanie Plum, Kinsey is very good at what she does.

These are your basic whodunit mysteries. I've figured a few things out early in the books, but most of the time I don't get everything figured out until the very end.

I like Kinsey, and I enjoy the mysteries. I find it frustrating that there is so much we aren't told at the end of the book. The mystery is solved and that's the end. If there was a romance forming then that's just tough, we don't get to see what might have happened once Kinsey was no longer running for her life and had time to pursue something with the guy. And by the time the next book starts we find out they had a few months together and now he's gone, or sometimes there isn't much mention of him at all beyond the fact that he existed in the last book.

And the same can be said of some of the people she works for. I'd like some more information about how they dealt with the fallout of Kinsey's discovery. Something more than "she's in therapy and trying to deal with it" would be nice.

Since Kinsey is basically a loner, we (so far) only have a few recurring characters: her landlord (who is quite a character), the owner of a restaurant where she spends a few nights a week, the guy over the homicide division of the local police department, an officer in missing persons, and some of the people who work for an insurance company. None of these characters are really fully developed, Kinsey doesn't spend much time with anyone (other than maybe her landlord) and we get a very limited perspective of them. Kinsey is fully developed, and sometimes her clients are fully developed, and sometimes the bad guy (or girl) is fully developed. But in the recurring cast of characters we know enough to get an idea of how they'll act when dealing with Kinsey, but that's about it.

Now for my big decision. What do I rate this series? If there were more closure at the end of the books then this series would easily get of a 7 of 10. And if there were more closure and we had more interaction with recurring characters it might even get an 8 of 10. It is well written and the mysteries keep you going until the end. But I do not like that feeling of just being dropped at the end of these books, so the series gets a 6 of 10.

"A" is for Alibi
"B" is for Burglar
"C" is for Corpse
"D" is for Deadbeat
"E" is for Evidence
"F" is for Fugitive
"G" is for Gumshoe
"H" is for Homicide
"I" is for Innocent
"J" is for Judgment
"K" Is for Killer
"L" Is for Lawless
"M" Is for Malice
"N" Is for Noose
"O" Is for Outlaw
"P" Is for Peril
"Q" Is For Quarry
"R" Is For Ricochet
"S" is for Silence
"T" is for Trespass
"U" is for Undertow

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