Monday, September 11, 2017

Review: Y Is For Yesterday
Sue Grafton was one of those authors I discovered in my teen years while browsing the stacks of my small town public library.   In my early twenties, freshly minted with my library degree and with what I foolishly thought back then was a "lengthy commute" (Future Wendy laughs in the face of Past Wendy....), I picked up the series again on audio book.  So, needless to say, it's one of the rare series I'm actual current on.

The last several entries have been...well, not that great.  I don't remember anything about V at allW was OK, I guess.  And X was a hot mess.  So I walked into Y is for Yesterday with some trepidation.  It's not without problems, but this is by far the strongest entry in the series since U is for Undertow (says me). 

Trigger Warning: sexual assault / rape.

The chain of events started in 1979, when 14-year-old Iris steals the answer key to a standardized test to help out her new BFF, Poppy, at Climping Academy - an exclusive private school near the central California coast.  It ends with a missing sex tape and another girl, Sloan Stevens, dead.  Fritz McCabe ends up going to juvenile detention for firing the fatal shots, and now, at 25, has been released.  His parents have welcomed him home, only to get a copy of the missing sex tape in the mail shortly after his release with demands for $25,000.  The "sex tape" shows Fritz, along with another boy, Troy, assaulting a drunk and stoned 14-year-old Iris.  There's a James Spader Preppy Baddie-type, Austin, orchestrating the whole thing while another boy, Bayard, acts as camera man.  The threat being that if the tape comes to light, Fritz goes back to prison - even though everyone involved in the making of the tape (including Iris) swears it was "a joke," not to be taken seriously.  The McCabes have no interest in paying blackmail, but also want to protect Fritz, so they hire local private investigator, Kinsey Millhone, to chase the whole sordid business down.

This is actually one of Grafton's stronger plots in ages, but that being said, it's a shocking read.  The Kinsey Millhone books could never be classified as "cozies," but neither have they ever been overly graphic.  There's not a lot of violence, blood and guts splashed on the pages.  So having gone through the previous 24 entries in this series, it was shocking to read the details of the sexual assault not once, but twice, over the course of this story.  I'm, generally speaking, a reader who can roll with most violence in fiction - but I'm not going to lie - this was upsetting.  Once was more than enough.  Twice borders on psychological torture p0rn, in my ever so humble opinion. And it's such a departure in tone from the previous books - I cannot believe I'm going to be the only reader who feels a little blindsided by it.

But, as troubling as the details of the sexual assault are, the plot itself is quite good - although honestly Kinsey is kind of dense in this one.  I felt like I caught on to things much quicker than she did - although Grafton once again employs dueling timelines, so to be fair, there were things the reader is clued in on well before Kinsey is.

Much like the last several books, Grafton cannot seem to help herself when it comes to secondary story lines.  Ned Lowe, a homicidal holdover from X, is still at large and gunning for Kinsey.  He takes up some serious word count in the second half of the book, along with Kinsey's annoying cousin Anna and homeless holdover Pearl (both introduced in W) who both need to get thrown in a fiery pit already.  It makes the book much too long and takes focus away from the primary story line, leaving us with an ending that ends more with a whimper than a bang.  This has been a criticism of mine for the last several books.  It's like Grafton can't settle on one idea and instead wants to cram three or four into the same book, short-changing all of them.

Which makes it sound like I really didn't like this.  I did, but it's definitely meh in parts.  Honestly, it's such an improvement over X that I was practically riveted to the audio during my daily commute and treadmill sessions.  However, it's still got the same issues that the last several books have had (too much meandering, too many outside distractions) and then there's the shocking "surprise" of the graphic depiction of a sexual assault filmed on tape.  That's just not the kind of thing I expect when I pick up a Sue Grafton Kinsey Millhone novel.

Final Grade = B- (for fans only)


Jill said...

Man, maybe I'll just skip X. I have this weird habit where I can give up on open ended series pretty easily when I lose interest (Elizabeth George, Stephanie Plum), but if a series has a definite end and it's only a few books away, I have this desire to stick it out no matter what. Even if that means skimming for the bare minimum (cough * Diana Gabaldon * cough)
I've been putting off reading X because I hate serial killer stories but now I'm on the waiting list for Y and I still don't want to read X. . .

Wendy said...

Jill: So X was one of those books where Grafton couldn't settle on a plot. There are literally 3 story lines in that one - and they're wholly separate. For example: Kinsey doesn't discover over the course of her investigations that the cases are somehow linked together. Nope. Separate all the way. I suspect it was supposed to read as "a day in the life" but it felt unfocused to me.

Also, you've read W. Pete Wolinsky in that book doesn't come off as a "good guy," right? Well his files are still in play in X, his widow calls for Kinsey's help, and suddenly Wolinsky is transformed post-mortem into this defender of women, small children and tiny woodland creatures. Really? The guy we met in W? Sorry, not buying.

And this is totally personal - but one of the cases in X involves Kinsey's neighborhood. Her and Henry have "neighbors from Hell." And personally, I've never liked the stories that involve Kinsey's neighborhood. I remember critics raved about T and that's one of my least favorites.

You could probably skip X and be OK - but I don't remember the serial killer stuff being overly graphic and gory. But my memory is a little hazy, so don't hold me to that :)

PK the Bookeemonster said...

I started the series when it first came out. So amazing. I petered out somewhere along M, I think. Probably more of "too much to read too little time" along with falling in love with historical mysteries more.

Jill said...

Haha, I know I read W although I have zero memory of it. Thanks for giving a honest recap of it all. I'll probably power through the audio version of both X and Y. I'm glad there's only one more to go. I still have a lot of affection for Kinsey as a character and I suspect it will carry me through.

Wendy said...

PK: I'm trying to think of "what's past M that was really good." Q. I really liked Q a lot. And U. And one of these days I need to go back and relisten to N and O.

Jill: I keep going because nostalgia and Judy Kaye does such a good job with the audio versions. But I feel like Grafton needs a strong editor to tell her to cut out all the superfluous nonsense and focus on delivering ONE good, strong mystery story.