Monday, December 14, 2009

"U" Is for Undertow

I have been a fan of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone series ever since “A” Is for Alibi. Unfortunately, I did not discover this first volume of the series until it hit my local bookstore in paperback format. If I had been able to afford the price of a hardcover book back in 1982, today I might be the proud owner of a little book that sells to collectors for about $1200 in the right condition and edition. Now, with “U” Is for Undertow, I have come full cycle – this one I read in e-book format.

It is 1988 and 39-year-old Kinsey Millhone, survivor of two failed marriages, is still living alone and running her one-woman detective agency in Santa Teresa, California when a young man walks into her office one afternoon looking for help. Michael Sutton is haunted by something he saw twenty years earlier, when he was six, and he wants Kinsey to find out exactly what he witnessed on the day he wandered away by himself from his neighbor’s yard. Did he, as he now believes, actually see two men in the process of burying the little girl they had kidnapped several days earlier? Kinsey might doubt Michael’s story but she has bills to pay – and Michael’s $500 for one day’s work is not something she can afford to pass up.

Thus begins a complicated investigation so intriguing to Kinsey Millhone that she finds herself working on it for many more hours than the ones for which she has been paid. Little Mary Claire Fitzhugh was kidnapped in July 1967 and, when her parents went to the police despite being warned by the kidnappers not to do so, she disappeared forever. Despite the best efforts of the Santa Teresa police and the FBI, no one was ever arrested for the crime and the little girl’s body was never found. Kinsey, who was in high school when the little girl was snatched, begins to believe that Michael really might have stumbled upon the killers that long ago day - and the chase is on.

“U” Is for Undertow is a fun reminder of just how primitive 1988 technology was when compared to all the gadgets available to us today. Kinsey does not own a fax machine or a cell phone; when she is in the field, she really is out there on her own. When she needs to research old addresses, business locations, or phone numbers she heads to her local library to use the cross-references and old phone books housed there. The microfilm reader is her friend and she uses index cards to capture her thoughts in a portable format. The reader will wonder if Kinsey, who is now 61 years old in 2009, much misses those old days.

Longtime Kinsey Millhone fans will be pleased, too, to find that “U” Is for Undertow opens a treasure trove full of details about her childhood and the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins Kinsey never learned of after the death of her parents. The chapters dealing with Kinsey’s family and the flashbacks to 1967 and its “Summer of Love” give the book a depth it would otherwise not have had. This is another fine addition to the series and it is hard to believe there are only five to go. It has been a fun ride.

Rated at: 5.0


  1. Sam, thank you for this review.
    I bought this book as a Christmas gift for a friend that loves the Grafton series. I myself have never read one of her books.
    So, it's encouraging to know that the book will probably be a good one, for my friend.
    And...... sounds like I should read it, too.
    Maybe starting with the "A" volume?

  2. Starting with "A" has its advantages, Cip, when it comes to having the whole story, but Grafton's style, IMO, is considerably better than it was at the beginning of the series, so don't give up on her if the first books don't grab you.