W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton (2 out of 5)

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I always look forward to a new Sue Grafton. Last year, instead of publishing another letter installment, she published Kinsey and Me, a collection of her stories interwoven with Kinsey’s. I loved it. This year, we got Kinsey back. By that, I mean, you have two stories, two bodies, and multiple loose ends going at once.

W finds Kinsey in a strange place. She finds out Pete Wolinsky, a shady PI that she knew, has been murdered, supposedly a robbery gone bad. Shortly after, she receives a call from the morgue telling her that the body of a homeless man found on a beach yielded not much in the way of identification, but her name and telephone number are on a slip of paper in the homeless man’s pocket.  R.T. Dace is the identity revealed, and it turns out he’s related to Kinsey through a distant relation. Things get messy when it’s revealed that the man had a family that he disowned and that the half a million dollars in his will was left to Kinsey! Not sure why, but it’s a lot of reading before you get an idea of what the hell is going on. There aren’t a lot of clever dances going here, just a lot of awkward two-step dance steps at the homecoming dance. Pete’s story turns out to be tied into R.T’s death, and Kinsey ends up having to not only figure out who killed Dace and figure out the will issues, not to mention his pissed off family, but she has to figure out what Pete’s story is and has to tie those loose ends up for his grieving wife. It’s quite the story when it is revealed, but there’s a lot of leading up to that, and a lot of strange bizarre ends that aren’t quite tied up by the book’s end.

Kinsey herself is still amusing and still one of my favorite female mystery sleuths.  I don’t find fault with her, or her supporting characters; Henry, William, Rosie, Cheney Philips, and even an appearance from Romeo Absent, Dietz. I wish they had more of Dietz and Cheney in this novel. For the little bit they are on the landscape, they color up the drab surroundings that is most of the book, regrettably. There’s not enough Henry, Rosie, or William. There are two new characters:  Ed, a cat that Henry ends up adopting and whom Kinsey secretly befriends, and Anna, who is one of Dace’s daughters and not at all a likable chit. Anna is the reason I almost set the book down. When she shows up out of nowhere and imposes her presence on Henry’s spare room and Kinsey lets that go without telling this pushy girl off, well, that lost some major credibility points. I know Kinsey the character is mellowing the older she gets (hello, 38!), but please, this is inexcusable! If some ungrateful opportunist showed up on my doorstep and invited themselves to stay with one of my neighbor, I would bitch slap them (and I’m 40). So I don’t buy into Grafton’s sudden mellowing of Kinsey in situations that in previous books would have had her putting people in their respective places.

The other thing I really didn’t buy was the loose ends- you are introduced to several plot points, most of which I won’t reveal here because I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t read the book, but there are a few. You are introduced to Dace’s other children and his ex, but after the initial discussions with them about their father and whether they would contest the will, it’s dropped. Obviously, you feel like this is brought to the forefront as a plot device, but it’s a NOT device. You get more of a story with Pete’s grieving wife, but only in the event that she helps Kinsey bring the reason for the deaths to the finale. You have Dietz coming back in for help because Pete owed him loads of money, and he blames Kinsey (incorrectly) for telling Pete to call him for a job. Dietz and Kinsey start doing the ritualistic relationship dance, although Dietz is a different, more somber man due to the death of his ex wife, and Kinsey allows herself to let him in a little bit, and we see more of her vulnerability. However, out of nowhere, his son shows up and tells his dad he wants to get to know him better and travel. Of course, Kinsey lets him go again, but that seemed like a screwy appearance, out of context, except for the shared factor of Pete Wolinsky, the dead PI. As soon as Dietz leaves, it seems perfect for the reappearance of Cheney Philips, another “ex” of Kinsey’s. You welcome him with relief, because all of our usual favorites (Henry, Rosie, William, Con Dolan) are MIA for much of this, and Cheney seems to be his usual self, and not sent to the character trash bin. Which, in this book, happens way too frequently for my liking.

I didn’t really care for the character assassinations that were taking place here. Henry is relegated to a whimpering, somewhat judgmental older man who seems to have issues with Kinsey all of a sudden, and yet is brought to marshmallow fluff over the cat and the unlikable vapid Anna. I was glad William got more airtime here, because he’s the only one who has any damn sense of that family! Even Rosie, who doesn’t suffer fools, seems to give Anna the gold cross of acceptance after she gets a manicure from her and she orders alcohol that Rosie approves of. WHAT? Where are the members of Kinsey’s “other family”? Please replace these sodden robots with the real characters.  You meet Willard, who had hired Pete for a job and ended up trying to put the screws to him, except Pete tries to extort Willard through Mary Sue, his wife, whom Pete is spying on for Willard- you have some resolution there, but that, while helping to make Pete and Dace’s deaths make more sense, makes you wildly uncaring about them as a couple and part of the whole subplot. It’s hard to get into the motive, when those who are helping supply it feed you a story that feels forced. That felt forced. You meet not only Dace’s disowned family, but his homeless friends Pearl, Dandy, and Felix. There’s another subplot there with those transients and the theft of Dace’s backpack, which results in an unfortunate circumstance with Felix later on. You meet these characters, you start to care about them, and poof! They’re gone. Just like that. Grafton does that a few times in the book. Not only that, but you feel the damn cat is introduced to humanize her and Henry also, but then, the cat, other than playing a starring role in the final throes of the book, is just background scenery. You never quite get a full story on what happened with several of these supporting starter-up characters, and that’s not at all like Sue Grafton.

All in all, not the great book I thought it was. The last book, V is for Vengeance, was a five star title. There have been several strange ones in the series, but this one outdid all of them. There are only 3 letters left, I hope Kinsey hits it out of the ballpark and Grafton is back to her usual awesome self. This one felt so loose and hanging frayed from all ends through much of it, and by the end, I really had a hard time caring. It took me a week to read this, and while I had many other hats I was wearing, none more than usual and yet, I just couldn’t keep picking up a book that I couldn’t wait to put down. W is for Wasted in more ways than one. I hope to hell we get our old, feisty Kinsey back in this next installment.

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~ by generationgbooks on October 5, 2013.

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