Book review: H is for Homicide, by Sue Grafton

Kinsey, you and your inappropriate sympathy and empathy for sociopathic criminals have finally gone too far.

From his first appearance, Raymond terrified me. Not due to his tics (though the first one was pretty creepily described and used to contribute to the suspense of the scene), but how easily and casually he abducted at gunpoint this woman (Bibianna) who wanted nothing to do with him, who was clearly scared to death of him, who ran away from him before (but not nearly far enough, jeez).

Kinsey accompanies Bibianna on this journey, starting from before they even meet Raymond, when Bibianna tells her that this man “is going to kill me,” and she’s not joking around. Later, Kinsey witnesses Raymond slowly and deliberately knife a man’s cheek. He explicitly tells her, when discussing Bibianna, “If someone doesn’t love me, they die” and that his intention to marry her was a form of punishment for her running away from him.

Bibianna’s face was pale and drawn. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you, Raymond, but what I could I do? What was I going to say to you? I tried to tell you…”

He raised a finger to his lips and pointed it at her reprovingly. “You don’t leave a guy, Bibianna.” He turned to me, one hand out, palm up, arguing his case. “I’ve been in love with this woman for how many years now? Six? Eight? What am I going to do with her, huh?”

Bibianna was silent, her eyes full of dread.

And yet Kinsey still has moments where she feels “protective” of him around strangers who look at him askance because of his tics??? She still admires his looks and thinks of how he could find a woman who actually likes him?

Later, we find out that Raymond sent a minion to cut Bibianna’s mother’s face in revenge for how his brother was killed in a shootout during a failed attempt to steal her back.

This revelation kicked off the climax, as Bibianna and Kinsey find themselves less guarded than usual and make an escape attempt. It’s almost comical in how badly they orchestrate it, though — and, frankly, poor writing, in that we’re supposed to accept that they couldn’t manage it any better despite how they were given an excellent chance. In the end, Bibianna escapes in a car, while Raymond forces Kinsey at gunpoint into a second car to chase after her.

Here’s the moment I hated the most: when Raymond drives with one hand on the steering wheel, puts his gun between his thighs, and picks up the car phone (this is the early ’90s) to call a henchman to put out a hit on Bibianna. While Kinsey is sitting beside him. And this brave, reckless woman, whom we have seen take countless chances to save her own life and others in the preceding books, does nothing while it happens. While listening to Raymond order the hit on Bibianna. She makes no grab for the gun, for the phone, for the steering wheel.

I can’t make excuses for you anymore, Kinsey. I’ve called you “weirdo” in the past when I couldn’t make sense of your behavior, but this is too much. Domestic violence, stalkers, violent men bent on controlling and punishing women, to the point of taking their lives — these are too real, too common, for me to take lightly. Why the hell doesn’t she feel more protective of Bibianna, who from the start only tried to help her look a little nicer in a nightclub, even though Kinsey was a stranger to her?

Then there’s more idiocy and too-convenient luck, where the henchman dies running Bibianna off a cliff (!), but she survives to be taken to a hospital. And of course Raymond goes straight there, and an idiotic doctor shares pertinent info despite the glaring “PROTECTIVE CUSTODY” note pinned to her file, and then there’s a shootout scene where Kinsey isn’t able to fire her gun because civilians aren’t getting out of the way (??? UNLIKELY). She finally chases him down but is stopped from pulling the trigger by a henchman who was actually LAPD undercover the whole time.

What really galled me is that we don’t even get the moment where she tells Raymond she was an undercover PI herself and had tricked him all this time. We learned at the start that he doesn’t think much of women’s intelligence, so it would have been worth something to see that moment. But no, nada.

If the books weren’t such good audiobook-in-the-car material, I would drop the series completely after this. But they are well written, with nice simple sentences that are easy to follow while also driving. Still, I’m going to give them a break while I pursue other series.

Also: I take points off that “well written” compliment, because Grafton doesn’t know how to write dialogue for different social classes/backgrounds. Kinsey spent most of the book hanging out with a Latino gang, and none of them had a different vocabulary or way of speaking from herself. I’m not talking about representing Spanglish — there’s different vocab and speaking patterns that some books I’ve listened to recently do well (like Lila and Pigs in Heaven), and this one decidedly does not. Perhaps also the narrator is to blame, because she didn’t even attempt a Spanish accent, which was so wrong for most of the characters — especially Bibianna (whom I could picture perfectly as Maritza from Orange is the New Black).

In conclusion: one star. Because at least Bibianna survived.

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