Book review: J is for Judgment, by Sue Grafton

With this J book (the tenth in the series), I sense that Grafton felt the pressure to shake up Kinsey’s tidy life.

She does this by dumping an extensive and complicated family on our solitary Batman-esque hero, who’s been an orphan since the age of five and whose only known relative died many years ago. I still don’t buy all of them keeping radio silence until…just one random day, there was no big life change or Kinsey contacting them first. She learned about them, and then the next day a cousin visits.

As before, I don’t entirely buy Grafton’s dialogue, especially in emotional scenes where characters are displaying vulnerability. Sometimes it’s because the character in question has only just met and shown nothing but distrust for Kinsey; other times it’s just packing way too much exposition into a scene where the emotional tension wouldn’t really allow for it.

I did like, however, how Kinsey entertained herself by playing along with a telemarketer, then using their whole spiel to interrogate one of her suspects.

Other developments/weirdness in the life of Kinsey Milhone:

  • She has started Spanish lessons and got to spend a week in Mexico.
  • She had an uncharacteristic Sexy Undercover Act where she seduced a random man on his hotel porch in order to protect her cover right after nosing around the neighboring room while the occupants were away.
  • She did this despite cutting her own hair with nail scissors (how is this possible) and “the effect was about what you’d expect.”
  • She remains pretty inappropriate in her sexual appetites by noting her attraction to an 18-year-old with hard muscles and armpit hair.
  • “I’m the only person I know who doesn’t express routine contempt for all the lawyers in the world. Just for the record, I like cops too; anyone who stands between me and anarchy.” Spoken like someone who’s never experienced lawyers or cops increasing the anarchy in one’s life.

Also, this cultural nugget:

He crossed his legs and used his pants cuff as an ashtray, leaving me to worry he’d set his nylon socks ablaze.

…Mac tapped a length of ash into his pants cuff.

??? Was that a thing people did/do? I guess it’s more polite than tapping it onto the floor of someone else’s office, but still…

There was also a particular reliance on phone booths, and once Kinsey found herself stranded by the highway and had to walk a mile to a gas station to call a tow truck, then find herself a local motel room for the night. It’s always fun to remember how people coped before cell phones were ubiquitous. And since I know Grafton is nearly done with the series in present-day, I wonder how she’s written Kinsey coping (or not) with the changing technology — so much of detective work nowadays is about google/hacking skills, and less reliance on police databases.

The ending was intriguing, however — Kinsey suggests that the story wasn’t about the murdered fraudster as it was about the woman who killed him and then swum naked into the ocean, crying and drunk. Kinsey suspected that was an act, that she had murdered her previous husbands and absconded with the latest victim’s cash for parts unknown, after faking her own death. Not a bad ending and a tantalizing peek into quite the life of a femme fatale.


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