V is for Vengeance is Sue Grafton’s 22nd novel in her Kinsey Millhone series. I like to refer to them as the “Alphabet Books.” It is pretty clever to have each title go with a letter of the alphabet. And the word associated with the letter is usually the theme or plot of the novel. It makes you wonder how many different situations one main character can encounter without the story lines getting stale. So far, Sue Grafton has avoided that.
If you haven’t read any of the “Alphabet Books” I definitely suggest starting them. The first book is called A is for Alibi. (surprised?)
Set in the 1980s, the Alphabet books follow Kinsey Millhone (an ex-cop private investigator in Santa Teresa, California) and the cases she is hired to investigate, many of which are likely to get her killed. Kinsey is immediately a likable character. She is easy to relate to and really pops off the page. She could be someone you meet walking down the street (though she isn’t the most social of people). Her closest friend is her octogenarian neighbor and landlord Henry.
This installment starts 2 years before the main action occurs. A recent college grad has a gambling problem and borrows money from a not-quite-legal businessman, loses all the money and can’t pay him back.
Fast forward to “present day” (April 1988) and we find our heroine doing a normal, everyday activity: shopping. She sees a shoplifter and reports her. Thus begins a wild ride of many loose ends and new pieces of information popping up in all directions. What seemed to be an isolated shoplifting incident turns out to be part of a shoplifting ring set up across the country. We see points of view from a few different characters and I tried to figure out how it was all connected before it was revealed. I didn’t figure out the full story, but I picked up little pieces here and there. Of course, once it is all explained it makes so much sense.
One thing I like about this series is that Grafton has been able to keep it set in the 1980s. She started the series then, so at that time the stories were taking place in present day. However, time moved faster than Grafton could write. But rather than have the story timeline move with real-time, she kept the novels in the 1980s. This is a good thing, because in today’s time Kinsey would be 61 and it would become somewhat unrealistic. As far as I can tell, she has held true to the ’80s (no anachronisms that I’ve noticed…then again, I was 5 when the 80s ended). But I have to continually remind myself: no cell phones!