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Monday, September 20, 2010

S Is for Silence

The lifeblood of any small company is the new business brought in by referrals from friends and former customers. Kinsey Millhone runs a one-woman detective agency and, although she is doing well enough with it, she is always hesitant to reject any potential clients that come her way. Still, after a friend asks her to meet with Daisy, a young woman whose mother disappeared 34 years earlier (in 1953), Kinsey only reluctantly agrees to take on a case gone so cold that it is unlikely ever to be solved.

That Violet Sullivan was Serena Station’s town slut is no secret. The stunningly beautiful redhead may have been married, with a seven-year-old daughter, but she still moved steadily from one affair to the next despite the grief it caused her husband. Men found Violet hard to resist; their wives despised her. And then one evening, she blew her daughter a kiss, waved goodbye to the babysitter, and disappeared in the flashiest car in Serena Station, a brand new 1953 Chevrolet Bel Air. She would never be seen again.

Kinsey does not expect her investigation to get far but, when one morning she finds all four tires on her VW Beetle slashed, she knows that she is making someone very nervous. Violet’s disappearance is complicated by the rumor that she left town with $50,000 in cash, and the fact that every man Kinsey interviews seems to have had a reason to want her dead. Kinsey will find that having an abundance of suspects is not a good thing.

S Is for Silence focuses almost entirely on the cold case Kinsey Millhone has been hired to investigate, even to such an extent that the book’s lack of attention to Kinsey’s personal life might disappoint some longtime fans of the series. Grafton alternates chapters flashing back to 1953 with chapters showing Kinsey stirring up things with the same characters in present day 1987, giving readers the opportunity to observe both eras in real time (in typical “cold case” fashion).

Despite being atypical of Grafton’s alphabet series, S Is for Silence is cleverly constructed up to the moment its disappointingly farfetched ending is exposed. The book’s climactic scene is so dependent on coincidence that much of its tension is lost because the reader is unlikely to be able to take the scene completely seriously. This, added to the way that so many of the investigation’s turning points are entirely dependent on Kinsey’s sudden intuition, and not on what she actually discovers about Violet’s disappearance, results in a less than satisfying mystery.

As usual, reader Judy Kaye does a magnificent job in presenting the words of Sue Grafton in the audio version of the book. Hers is the perfect Kinsey Millhone voice.

Rated at: 3.0
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