Private Investigator Kinsey Millhone is back, and this time she’s been hired by a wealthy, adoring and ailing father to baby-sit his daughter who is being released from prison and to make sure Reba doesn’t do anything to break her parole. It seems like a pretty easy task, and as Kinsey and Reba spend some time together, she discovers Reba to be a fascinating and edgy mix of innocence and cynicism, hardened by her prison experience yet somehow untouched by it. To Kinsey’s amazement, hardly has Reba returned home than she resumes her affair with her ex-boss, the same man who got her arrested for embezzlement.
To further complicate matters, Kinsey begins to see a lot of handsome cop Cheney Phillips, and not just on a date. Together with the FBI, Cheney starts pressurizing Kinsey to persuade Reba to become an informant and squeal on her ex-boss, who is suspected of money-laundering for the mob. But the more Kinsey comes to know and understand Reba, the more reluctant she is to get her newfound friend into trouble. Meanwhile, Kinsey’s landlord Henry and his brother get involved in an acrimonious love triangle while Rosie, that Hungarian restaurateur, is as crabby and domineering as ever. Romance, revenge and reality all combine in a raging manner to create an unbearably tense and thrilling mystery.
Beginning with A is for Alibi, Sue Grafton has consistently crafted stylish, honest and tangled stories for her Kinsey Millhone mystery series. While not as intensely personal or revealing, this story shows a newer and somewhat softer side of Kinsey, who faces many home truths and self-realizations during the course of this mystery. But even more than Kinsey with her excellent sleuthing abilities and off-hand style of caring and non-involvement, it’s Reba, the ex-con, who takes center stage in this story about relationships, betrayal and money. The interaction between Kinsey and Reba is sometimes friendly, at times antagonistic, but always fluid, and the shifting constancy adds a raw edge to the suspense.
Excellent characterizations and evocative descriptions together with in-depth details about money-laundering and its widespread existence make for compelling reading. Grafton has a gift for creating realistic characters, conflicts and maze-like mysteries that keep the readers glued to the pages, and it’s obvious in this narrative. But after taking a comprehensive look into Kinsey’s own turmoil-filled past in the previous novel in this alphabetical series, Grafton has disappointingly taken a break from that line of story and character development and returns Kinsey once again to her laconic, shell-like world with a few and familiar friends. But despite and because of all her machinations, the dramatic tension and sense of adventure is excellent.