Sunday, February 02, 2014

Book Review: W is for Wasted

W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton

Sue Grafton has grown bored of the Kinsey Millhone character. This book, weighing in at a hefty 484 pages contains a bibliography of no less than seven non-fiction books at the end. Why? Because it tackles homelessness, clinical trials and medical malpractice. It also traverses southern and central California, straying outside the bubble of the fake seaside down of Santa Theresa for Lompoc (at least in name) and Bakersfield - making the whole fake town even more awkward. The whole time, Kinsey remains unchanged. Yes, 23 books in Kinsey still cuts her hair with fingernail scissors and owns a single black dress she uses for all occasions but otherwise keeps stored in a crumpled up ball. Sure, someone gets a cat, but it's not Kinsey and that's not enough to change this book that otherwise seems to be trapped in time.

It's about 127 pages in - almost to chapter 11 where it finally feels like "Ah... the prologue is over, now the book begins." In addition to lots of research that allows Grafton to weave a complicated storyline, another plot device is used - the dreaded flashback. The story starts with two deaths. For one, the death is the beginning of the story, the reason for his death being Kinsey's to uncover. The other, the reasons are told through flashbacks, up until the point the two stories collide.

Unfortunately, once again Pixar rule #19 is violated: "Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating." This happens a lot in these types of books and it's not a big crime, there's much else to complain about, but you'd think 23 books in a story would be thought-out well enough to avoid such a cheat. This is supposed to be a really sharp private eye, though by her actions you have to wonder about her mental state, her need for rigid order, her awkwardness/standoffishness towards others, her inability to bond. It's explained away by upbringing, but you wonder why the author wrote the character this way and what's going to happen three books from now when we reach Z.

The book also tries to weave in a social or political commentary on homelessness while creating homeless characters who are all caricatures or hulking voiceless scam artists and purveyors of violence.

I'll keep reading the rest of the Millhone series, but it's really disappointing to see such a complete lack of growth after so long. I'd love to see the next book contain a bibliography about character growth and development.


W is for Wasted (Amazon.com)

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