Fiction: “F is for Fugitive” by Sue Grafton

This was another title I chose for my vacation. I began reading this on-board my flight from Phoenix to Ontario, and finished it this evening while waiting for a table at the Irvine Cheesecake Factory. I would have finished it quicker if there wasn’t so much driving going on.

This entry takes place two months after the conclusion of E is for Evidence. Kinsey Millhone has been staying with her landlord, Henry, on a temporary basis, as her apartment is being rebuilt after it exploded in the last entry. (Oh crap, I totally gave away the ending to that one. Er, sorry folks. BUT IT SAYS SO ON THE BACK OF THE BOOK.) Looking for some space, Kinsey accepts a case that takes her from her home in Santa Teresa, California, and puts her in the middle of Floral Beach.

She is hired by Royce Fowler, the owner of the Tides motel (or something like that). His son, Bailey Fowler, was accused of murdering his girlfriend, Jean Timberlake, seventeen years ago. He pled guilty, but then escaped from the San Luis Obispo men’s penal colony a year into his sentence. He changed his name and built a life for himself, but then got caught on a stupid thing (so stupid it’s inconsequential to the plot), and now he’s back in jail. Royce believes him to be innocent, and hires Kinsey to find the real killer.

Her investigation takes her all over the town of Floral Beach – to the principal of the high school Jean went to, Dwight Shales; to the town doctor and Jean’s employer at the time of her death, Dr. Dunne — not to mention his psycho wife, Elva. Pearl and his wife, Daisy, the owners of the town bar. And the rest of Bailey’s family: Ori, his mother that’s dying of diabetes, and his sister, Ann, who is managing the motel, taking care of Ori, as well as taking care of her father, who has less than six months to live from pancreatic cancer.

Yeah, it’s a cheery town all right.

Kinsey asks many questions, but doesn’t get much help from the townfolk. People there are perfectly happy to keep blaming Bailey for Jean’s death, especially since he pled the first time around. Not to mention that his friend, Tap, busts into the courtroom during his arraignment and busts him out of there (but not before dying).

Of course, Kinsey does find her answers. And what I like about the Kinsey Millhone mysteries is that you can read the book and think you know ‘who-dun-it,’ but it’s not until the last chapter that the final piece falls into place and the whole thing makes sense. There are other mysteries that I read where I can guess the killer before the detective; and that’s no fun.

But what was truly fun for me about this book was the fact that I picked this one out at random to take with me on vacation — I certainly didn’t mean to pick the one title that took place during towns I stayed in.

For those not in the know: Kinsey’s hometown of Santa Teresa is a thinly veiled version of Santa Barbara. In the first chapter, Kinsey explains that Floral Beach is about an hour and a half further up the coast from Santa Barbara, and from further descriptions, I’m led to believe that it’s just above San Luis Obispo.

Well, I stayed in a tiny town called Morro Bay last night, and drove through San Luis Obispo on my way south today. And let me tell you – Morro Bay’s about ten minutes away from San Luis, and all told, it was a good hour and a half before I hit Santa Barbara. I can’t think of another tiny town that Floral Beach could pass for. I mean, Morro Bay’s a tiny town, right on the water, with tons of ramshackle, seaside inns (you know the kind I mean). It was very cute, and I enjoyed my time there.

And it was tons of fun for me to drive throuh San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Lompoc. Santa Barbara because, as I said, it’s the non-fictional version of Santa Teresa (and also Sunnydale, for those keeping track – and don’t get me started on how if Torrance High School had been right on the PCH I totally would have turned off and taken pictures), but all I knew about Lompoc and San Luis Obispo prior to my trip (somewhat, not really) was that they were the homes of the California Federal Penitentiary and the Men’s Penal Colony, respectively.

See? I took that to prove I was there.

You don’t want to know how geeky I was when I drove past Ventura while “We Used to Be Friends” played on the CD I was listening to. (SUPER geeky.)

Grade for F is for Fugitive: 3 stars

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