Continuing to work down my guilt over the pages of reading my family bestowed on me for the holidays. In part, because I’ve been hearing about OTHER books that I should be reading but won’t read until I tackle the gifts I have been given.
So, today I finished “V is for Vengeance”. This was an easy book to pick out for me. I’ve been reading Sue Grafton for a while now, starting with “A is for Alibi” way back in the early 90s. I’m not normally a huge mystery reader (although I also like Carl Hiaasen, even if his female characters are always a bit too smart and gorgeous, like very bright, street smart Barbies) but the cover was an allure. Oh sure, you can’t judge a book by its cover, but it certainly is an allure. The cover had a large “A” on it, in a condensed Kabel-like font and I was intrigued. It also had a nice illustration of a window on it, so I read the synopsis and it looked like a good light read, plus it was paperback, so I bought it. (Ironically, the version you would buy new today has zero cover appeal for me.) The main character, Kinsey Millhone, was a single woman in the late 80s, a PI in California with a snarky sense of humor and a quirky life and so I really enjoyed it. Her commentary on her world was a hoot and so “B is for Burglar” and “C is for Corpse” followed quickly. After those three, the covers changed to something less appealing, a little more commercial-looking, but I was no longer judging these books by their design.
Fast forward 20 years and 21 books later and we are up to V. Kinsey’s been through a lot: there have been several lovers, lots of broken bones, her home torched, her car destroyed, a missing family sneaking into her life and 20+ cases solved, among other things. Kinsey’s an oddball lady, certainly scrappy, but without that I probably wouldn’t be reading these. Once I polished off the paperbacks, I was forced into hardbacks, which meant that every other year, my mother probably had a Christmas gift to give me. (One year, she bought it for my birthday AND for Christmas.) Once we got into the hardbacks, the design of the book settled in to standard look: a large serifed letter, with a bit of emboss and shadow to give it some depth, and the title in white underneath, all on a slightly metallic deep color. This time, it’s red. Surprising, because there’s not a ton of blood in this one. The font appears to be some sort of Bodoni, which must be popular in the book world. Unlike the Mindy Kaling book, the font usage here is more consistent: Bodoni is the serif font, and there is a Helvetica Condensed used in other places. And, it’s distinctive because I associate this body copy with a Sue Grafton novel.
So, why the design is pretty much called in at this point of the game, it’s at least clean and not distracting.
As for the book itself, the stories have gotten a little more complex as we’ve worked our way down the alphabet. I think I remember reading that Grafton was a TV script writer and the first book was written with her soon to be ex-husband as inspiration for the sociopath. She also vowed she would never sell the rights to this character, because she didn’t like to think about what they would do to Kinsey. Plus, I think she knew it would kill people in the industry that they could never have her. Still, the early books read as though they might just be well-crafted TV serials. Everything is fairly tidy at the end. Around G, she starts to branch out a bit, giving the stories more depth and complexity. It also doesn’t hurt that at this point, Kinsey’s surroundings are fairly well established. Oh sure, her friends come and go, as do lovers, but the landlord, the local tavern and tavern owner, the running, the fast food, even the VW bug are all standard backdrops for the story we are going to read.
Still, I do miss some of the lightheartedness that characterized the earlier books. I used to laugh out loud at some of the descriptions, but the series took a darker turn. Kinsey seems a little more hardened, a little more serious than she did in the early days.
This one is also a solid story, although it didn’t grab me early on as did some of the others. There seem to be some disconnected threads early on in the book and when they connect, you aren’t necessarily that surprised. It feels like you knew the pieces would fit together. The shoplifting angle is one I never realized could go so deep, so I enjoyed that aspect of it. And there’s plenty of vengeance to go on here: lots of people feel a need to get back at those that have done them wrong. Even in the end, Kinsey gets her own kind of vengeance, or at least the book ends with that direction.
Maybe 22 books in, I’m feeling like Kinsey is in a slight rut. Or maybe I’ve just gotten to know her too well. Still, I do enjoy these books, just not with the same excitement that I once did. Will I read the last four? Yes, even if I didn’t get them for Christmas gifts.
Design grade: B. Book grade: B+