Review: V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton

The 22nd outing for Kinsey Millhone, private detective in the fictional California town of Santa Teresa starts with a brief prologue in which a young man is thrown to his death from the top floor of a Las Vegas parking garage after failing to pay his gambling debts to a loan shark, Lorenzo Dante.The story proper then starts two years later when Kinsey spots two shoplifters in a local department store and after alerting the store’s security to follow one of the woman Kinsey trails after the other. The first woman is Audrey Vance and she is arrested, but shortly after being bailed out of jail by her boyfriend her body is found, apparently having committed suicide from a local bridge. Kinsey is then approached by Audrey’s boyfriend who doesn’t believe she was shoplifting and wants her good name cleared. However Kinsey soon becomes convinced that Audrey was a professional shoplifter, part of a large operation. While all this is going on we’re introduced to a woman called Nora who is married to a wealthy Hollywood agent but soon experiences an upheaval in that relationship. She meets Lorenzo Dante who is tiring of his life of organised crime and becomes smitten with Nora which has unforeseen circumstances. Of course the two stories eventually connect, in several ways by the end of the novel.

This book is a return to a more traditional storytelling format after the departure into part historical fiction of 2010’s U is for Undertow. From a plotting perspective it is complicated but in Grafton’s assured hands the different elements are juggled well, always keeping the reader’s interest There are plenty of twists and turns along the way as Kinsey unravels the shoplifting racket and Nora and Lorenzo do their separate dances with fate. There is a one unlikely coincidences at the very end which I could have done without but I forgave it. I did think it a nice change for a crime novel to spend most of its investigative energy on the crime of organised shoplifting which I had no idea could be so lucrative and…well…organised! Who’d work in retail?

It’s fair to say that Kinsey has never been the most deeply drawn character in crime fiction but here she does seem to be even more solitary and one-dimensional than usual. In the past couple of books she has made tentative connections to the extended family she has discovered, after being orphaned as a young child, but there is no mention of her relatives here. Even Henry, her octogenarian landlord, plays only a minor role as he is out of state for most of the book. So for character development we turn to others including Nora and Lorenzo whose backgrounds are vastly different but whose current dissatisfaction with the direction their lives have taken is interesting to watch unfold.

I have written before about my fondness for this series and have even admitted a certain lack of objectivity which might result in me being a bit more generous about these books than others I read so you’ll have to excuse me a little. Though even I can admit that V is for Vengeance is not the best of the series.It’s a bit long for example. The first books in the series were never 450+ pages long and this one didn’t need to be either. For instance fans of the series already know about Rosie the bar owner’s dodgy Hungarian cooking and I’m sure even readers new to the series would have gotten the gag with less than a dozen or so references to it. There seemed to be a bit of unnecessary filler content like this that in earlier books was either never there to begin with or was edited out.

That said I still enjoyed catching up with Kinsey again and am philosophical about the slight waxing and waning of quality that happens with any long running series. I think i’m still objective enough to be able to say that this series is not on a downward spiral like several I’ve stopped reading all together (e.g. Patrica Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series). Essentially this book is well in keeping with its predecessors and the main characters didn’t do anything ridiculous. I will look forward to the remaining 4 installments of the series. If you’re new to the alphabet books and are curious I would recommend you read the previous novel, U is for Undertow, which I think works much better than this one as a standalone novel or as an introduction to the series. But long time fans will be happy enough with this outing, though most will probably wish for a bit more Henry as I did.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 3.5/5
Publisher Mantle [2011]
ISBN 9780230756212
Length 437 pages
Format trade paperbak
Book Series #22 in the alphabet series.
Source I bought it
Creative Commons Licence
This work by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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10 Responses to Review: V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Bernadette – Thanks for a very well-done review. I know exactly what you mean about long-running series. The novels may wax and wane a bit, but in general, the good series have more waxes than wanes and overall, the novels are strong. I’m glad you thought this was a good read even if it didn’t make your top-five-novels-I’ve-ever-read list…
    And about retail? My husband was in retail management for several years and I can tell you that retail theft is indeed a big business.


  2. Sarah says:

    I’m definitely going to read this Bernadette because like you I am a big fan of the series. It’s useful to know how it compares with other more recent books. I’m looking forward to getting started.


  3. Barbara says:

    I completely understand your being partial to Kinsey and this series since I am too. Haven’t gotten to read “V” yet but I’m anxious to. Sorry Henry isn’t in it as much since he’s my favorite character besides Kinsey, but I know I’ll love this one anyway – always do.


  4. Kathy D. says:

    I enjoyed this book a lot. I read it during the stressful holiday week and looked forward to picking it up every day. It was my relaxation with a cup of tea, etc. I was impressed that at no. 22, Sue Grafton could still write an interesting book and maintain Kinsey’s sense of humor, too. I thought a few paragraphs and details about miscellaneous characters could have been deleted and found some I’d have taken out. But overall I was pleasantly surprised that the author could still write such a book after so many others in the series and she succeeded, whereas other have not. (I’m not naming names.)
    But, overall, I felt like I had come home to a bowl of chicken soup and slippers in cold weather and it gave comfort and enjoyment. I had a short-lived post-good-book slump and then picked up Anne Holt’s 1222, with the crustiest character going. About to make that one a DNF, I gave it another chance and am glad I did.


  5. Maxine says:

    I have just had a quick skim of your review as I plan to read this book myself soon, will come back to it properly then. (On 1222, I did not like it, not a patch on the Johanne Vik series that has been translated (4 so far). (Hanne is a minor character in most of the Vik books.)


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