Sue Grafton is justifiably famous for her long-running Kinsey Millhone series, a series that is rapidly approaching a major milestone as it approaches the end of the run for the alphabetically christened novels. Because “V” Is for Vengeance was published way back in 2011, fans of the series are certain to be pleased with the release of Kinsey and Me, a collection of nine (1986-1993) Kinsey Millhone short stories and a bonus section: the “and Me” portion of the book encompasses another bunch of very personal short stories closely based on the author’s own childhood and dysfunctional family.
Along the way, Grafton also explains the mystery/crime genres and discusses why she enjoys working within the limitations of the short story format. Unfortunately, the Kinsey Millhone stories, precisely because Grafton fails to overcome those limitations, are not nearly as effective or impressive as the Millhone novels. The nine short stories are cleverly enough plotted, but only one or two of the cases require Kinsey Millhone to break much of a sweat. It is just all too easy for her.
Some of the stories, though, are fun. “Falling Off the Roof” has a nice anti-Stepford-wife twist to it that had me chuckling, and “Full Circle” builds the tension nicely considering the number of pages the author allots to it. Others, particularly “The Lying Game,” are just too clever for their own good, when read in a story collection. They would probably be more effective when read as single stories in a magazine or in a collection encompassing several authors.
I admire Grafton’s courage in publishing the “and Me” stories. What these stories reveal about Grafton’s background and childhood is sad, but they explain the origin of the author’s fascination with the mystery genre and her general love of books and reading. She is to be applauded for sharing the stories, but be warned: they are rather depressing and are not at all like anything from her that fans have read before. Grafton’s personal story is worthy of a full-fledged memoir, something her fans would, I think, appreciate. Let’s hope something like this is in Grafton’s future writing plans.