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O IS FOR OUTLAW
By Sue Grafton
Henry Holt & Company, (October, 1999) Hardcover, 318 pages. $26.00
Reviewed by Denise Baton
Years after a divorce, it is easier to forgive an ex-husband, even though he did some pretty bad things, and maybe even after discovering he betrayed in ways not previously imagined.
In Sue Grafton's latest book of the Kinsey Millhone series, O IS FOR OUTLAW, such a tendency toward forgiveness is complicated by a need to learn the truth. What drives this need? Is it a rich client or someone on death row that must be exonerated? Nope. A box of old discarded belongings, Kinsey's belongings, held ransom by a "storage room gambler." These remnants of the past, which include an old bra, a lovely metaphor for past intimacy, and the ammo for her old 9mm Smith and Wesson, come back to haunt Kinsey Millhone and reveal to the scrappy private investigator that her ex, Mickey Magruder, is in dire straits.
She has an insistent angel on one shoulder demanding that she find out why. And a dark devil on the other that suspects everyone, from biker-transients to the glamour set of Los Angeles, where Kinsey must go to find the truth.
In L.A., Kinsey meets up with Dixie, former bar-maid at the cop bar where Kinsey and her ex used to hang out. An early-in-the-day cocktail drinking, cigarette-smoking dragon lady, Dixie is dressed to the nines, dripping in gold and receiving guests, meaning Kinsey, in her lavish home.
Kinsey is armed with a letter written by Dixie a lifetime ago and the ability to smell a lie a mile away. But she begins to doubt her own indignation and to believe that she may have misjudged her ex and in so doing, sentenced him to harsh consequences unfairly.
I found this particular book in Sue Grafton's series to be riveting in its pertinence to the protagonist, private investigator, Kinsey Millhone. The character has always held a certain charm in her refusal to buy more than one dress and her insistence on driving the same old Volkswagon, not to mention her penchant for junk food. Each story features a vulnerable aspect of Kinsey's psyche revealed by her skittish romances and how she perceives both victims and criminal. In O IS FOR OUTLAW, this is exponentially increased as the "criminal" and "victim" is her own ex-husband. Examination of his past leads irrevocably to gazing through a magnifying glass over Kinsey's own soul, starting with her grade school report cards that Mickey had hung onto. The stakes rise as Kinsey discovers one connection after another, led by her own personal knowledge of her husband.
Things that no one else could know about Mickey direct Kinsey to a truth that propels her with more determination as well as an increased exposure to danger. Her old gun is linked to an unspeakable crime. She becomes a prime suspect. Two charming and spirited old landladies aid Kinsey, giving her a momentary but cozy sanctuary. But no one can protect her from the closing circle of evil for which Sue Grafton creates a flourish of an ending, both gratifying and ever true to her signature. Read O IS FOR OUTLAW and get to know Kinsey Millhone in a richer more intrinsic way.
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