This is a pity because Grafton can really write. She brings her character and settings vividly to life. As Kinsey enjoys an early morning drive she tells us she feels a "jolt of pure joy". Grafton knows how to use language. She's the real McCoy and her story have freshness and great immediacy.
When Kinsey feels angry she says "I could freel the heat flash through my frame". When confronted with the dead body of a friend, she forces herself to detach from her emotions: "I pulled a mental plug."
Similarly when she goes undercover to join a car insurance-scam gang, she has to take part in the cons. As she dupes the marks she again has to detach herself, "employing the same mental detachment I adopt when I enter a morgue".
She can also be very funny. A telephone emits a sound like a "garbage disposal grinding up a live duck."
But one of the things that has always impressed me the most about the Kinsey Millhone books is the authenticity of the protagonist and her behaviour. In this story, despite her friend being killed, she leaves the case entirely to the cops — the way a professional would.
Of course, she ends up being involved after all. As we expect she should. But it's the way that Grafton engineers this which causes the book to go seriously off the rails.
When a woman Millhone is investigating gets arrested, our heroine attacks one of the cops so she can be arrested, too. And therefore get thrown in a cell with the woman and glean valuable information and bond with her.
This just does not fit with Millhone's common sense and low-key professionalism. When she assaults a police officer she is jeopardising her licence, in fact throwing it away forever. Never mind that she's acting undercover.
Worse yet, this reckless action is utterly unmotivated. Kinsey Millhone has absolutely no reason to believe that the woman she's following will prove to be such a valuable lead as to justify such extreme behaviour....
Now, all this might make sense if our detective knew she was onto a huge and important case, and the woman was a vital link. But at this point in the story she doesn't, and couldn't.
It's exactly as if our heroine has read the outline of the novel, as if she's privy to Grafton's game plan. Eventually the narrative gets back on track, sort of. But the story never quite worked for me after that.
This was my second Kinsey Millhone disappointment, after S is for Silence, a book which went completely off the rails at the end with a rushed, unsatisfying and entirely unconvincing denouement.
Writing a long running series of crime novels is a very serious business. There is always the danger of penning a weak instalment. But if you do that, you will keenly disappoint your readers. They will feel betrayed. And they may be reluctant to pick up the next book.
This is where I currently stand with Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone series. Having been let down twice I simply don't feel the enthusiasm for these stories which I did before. In fact yesterday I took my unread Grafton's to the charity shop and got rid of them.
I'm sorry things turned out like this. I was looking forward to 26 highy enjoyable reads. I'll let you know if things change and I return to these books. But meantime, it's a salutary and sobering lesson to anyone who aspires to writing a long-running series of crime novels.
You can't afford to write a dud. Let alone two.
(Image credits: The covers are from Good Reads. except for the main image (the blue dog cover) which I scanned from my own copy because the Good Reads one was a bit of a mess. Oh, and I quite like the yellow Spanish cover... but can anyone tell me what the hell it's a picture of?)