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Issue: Autumn, 2010

U is for Undertow book review

The Tides of Life

Private Investigator Kinsey Milhone is a reformed orphan. She had a nervous childhood as a parentless girl raised by a tough but concerned aunt who taught her to shoot, not to cook. In her thirties she has been discovered, a few months back in series time, by her mother's estranged family.

Now in the background of her cases Kinsey is struggling with the demands of the encroaching family which threatens her life as a self-sufficient unit.

It is 1988 and Kinsey, in this twentieth book of the alphabet series, is approached by a young man who believes that as a child in 1967 he saw the burial of a young kidnapping victim.

Book cover, U is for Undertow by Sue Grafton; 220x344

U is for Undertow (2009), tpb, 403p, Pan Macmillan,

He, Mike Sutton, pays for a day's work, but Kinsey is part terrier and continues to worry at the problem despite questions about the credibility of her client.

Sue Grafton has hit her stride with the Kinsey Milhone books. Having tripped badly with L is for Lawless, she recovered to produce a series of interesting P. I. procedurals.

Kinsey, like many of her compatriots, has a private and professional life. She works cases large and small, dull and interesting, balancing administration with legwork. The lady is a working detective.

The mix of life and work is well-balanced in U is for Undertow. There are enough friends and family to give texture to Kinsey's singleton existence. People who care about Kinsey, and about whom she cares, give depth to her character. With those details she becomes an old friend as she lives a busy few years in the 1980s without mobile phones, tapping away her reports on her Smith-Corona typewriter and doing much of her research from print editions and microfilm.

Investigating with Kinsey is like a ride-along with someone who we know well enough that she need not try to glamorise herself or her work. It's a particular type of gritty P. I. story that Sue Grafton has made her own.

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Ali Kayn
March, 2010

Search Festivale for more work by this author.
See also:
Sue Grafton Bibliography page -- Kinsey Milhone Alphabet series .

Val McDermid's Kate Brannigan series
Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum, Bounty Hunter series
Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series