Fiction: “H is for Homicide” by Sue Grafton

H is for HomicideTrue confessions: I was unable to finish the other two books I wanted to on the 31st.  So my final count for books read in 2013 will be 27, down two from 2012’s already-record-low count of 29.  There are a lot of factors that affected this – Dracula‘s boredom-making, Island of Vice being extremely sloggy; plus outside factors, like how much I was working, how much I was crocheting, and how much I was sleeping.  So while I’m not exactly thrilled with the fact that every year I’ve had this blog, my yearly count has declined, I can at least say that in December of 2013 I finished three books, compared to a big fat zero in December of 2012.  Go three hundred percent increase for me!

Every Christmas, my parents get me the new Sue Grafton novel – when she publishes, of course.  I think it’s been a couple of years since V is for … whatever it is was published, so I didn’t get one last year.  But it’s tradition: if there’s a new Grafton novel, chances are it’ll be under the tree for me.  This year it was in a box under the tree for me, to keep me wondering if people forgot about the one (or two) specific things I requested.  That Dad – always trying to keep me guessing.  (Spoiler alert: I got everything I asked for this Christmas, including having Christmas off.  Huzzah!)

So anyway, let’s flashback to after Christmas morning but before afternoon when we all packed up to go see Saving Mr. Banks, and I’m reading H is for Homicide:

Mom: What, are you reading them all over again to get caught up?
Me: Sort of.  Not all in one sitting.  It’s been a while since I read G.

And it has been.  Looking back, I read G is for Gumshoe in August of 2012.  2012, you guys.  That is a long time to go between books in a series.  Luckily, I’ve read G and H multiple times so the gap between reading them didn’t affect my knowledge of what was going on.

H is for Homicide actually sets up the next stage in Kinsey Millhone’s life.  I’m not sure I’ve mentioned it before – mainly because I believe the previous novels I’ve reviewed here have only involved it tangentially – but Kinsey rents her office from California Fidelity Insurance, exchanging investigative work for the space.  Well, CF gets a big high muckety-muck up from Palm Springs to go through the branch and identify issues.  Mainly, payroll and claim issues.  Y’know, a bigshot penny pincher; a jackass, if you will.

And Kinsey and the asshole dislike each other on sight.  He can’t comprehend how she’s been using this office space for free, essentially, for a number of years.  As an independent contractor, she hasn’t filed all of the necessary (superlative) paperwork, she dresses in a turtleneck and jeans on a weekday (not even casual Friday!), and her attitude he believes to be poor.  In her head, Kinsey’s all, likewise.  But before they can get into their differences further, Kinsey is pulled into a massive auto insurance fraud investigation that leads her to Los Angeles.

Kinsey is given a claim that may be fraudulent – a big clue is that the physical address of the claimant, Bibianna Diaz, is nothing more than a vacant lot.  Through her channels of sleuthing – using her big cross-reference phone book, asking questions at the local police and sheriff’s departments – she is able to locate Bibianna.  That night, she manages to befriend Bibianna at a dive bar, and discovers that Bibianna is now dating Kinsey’s childhood friend and ex-cop Jimmy Tate.

Then shit goes bad.  A man and a woman – who Kinsey had seen at CF (badly) pretending to be insurance agents – show up at the bar and try to abduct Bibianna.  When she refuses, there’s a shoot-out between the couple and Tate.  Bibianna and Kinsey get arrested; Kinsey, so she can stick close to Bibianna, not because she wanted to punch out that cop.  She’s woken up at four in the morning by the guard, and brought into a conference room with homicide detective Con Dolan (who has appeared in previous books).  Turns out she’s into something deeper than just a runaway bride, her new boyfriend, and their car insurance fraud – it’s a ring of car insurance frauds, perpetrated by Bibianna’s ex, Raymond Maldonado.

Kinsey’s all prepared to get a wire and gather evidence for Lt. Dolan, but she and Bibianna are bailed out by Raymond before that can happen.  So now Kinsey’s shuffled off to Los Angeles with a crazed con man with Tourette’s, without any assistance from either Santa Teresa police or the LAPD.  She doesn’t have her trusty handbag or her gun, and she’s led Bibianna et. al. to believe that she is Hannah Moore, so she’s making it up as she goes.

But one of the best parts about Kinsey is her ability to think on her feet.  She rolls with the punches, and actually takes a tiny bit of pleasure in pretending to be Hannah Moore – she can say anything she wants to without any consequences.  She doesn’t have to watch her language, she can chastise Bibianna for being an idiot.  And in a stroke of luck for her, her candor actually puts her into Raymond’s good graces.

With H is for Homicide, the mystery doesn’t really come from a whodunit or a howdunit perspective – we know by page 100 who the ringleader of the insurance fraud is and how Bibianna is involved.  There is a minor mystery that Kinsey doesn’t solve until the end regarding a leak in the police department going to the fraudsters, but the main mystery is: how is Kinsey going to get out of this?

But get out of it she does – and I have to leave that information to the readers of the book, because that is a big ol’ spoiler – and when she returns, she has been ‘fired’ from California Fidelity and so no longer has an office.

Kinsey’s cast of supporting characters she usually works with – her landlord Henry, her diner pal Rosie – do not make any appearance in this novel.  But the people she interacts with in Los Angeles and the tension from being the wrong place at the wrong time makes up for that deficit.

I look forward to reading the rest of the alphabet – especially since I really don’t recall any specific details from the next few.  I know I’ve read up through M is for Malice at least once, and may have read N is for Noose.  I am 90% sure I haven’t read O is for Outlaw – oh wait, maybe I did; is that the one where [spoiler spoiler spoiler]?  *checks Wikipedia* Okay, so upon review, yes, I have read through O is for Outlaw.  Which means I’ve probably only read I through L twice?  And M, N and O once?  I know I haven’t read beyond O.

So the next few books will be a nice journey.  I know Kinsey finds some new office space, and connections from her past crop up in a couple of books.  There are, of course, more dangerous situations she gets herself into, but the best thing I can say about the Kinsey Millhone series is that, no matter how many times I read a title, I always take away something new or fresh.  They are always enjoyable.

Grade for H is for Homicide: 4 stars

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