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 all. W 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)