U IS FOR UNDERTOW by Sue Grafton [Review]

U is for Undertow

I’ve been reading Sue Grafton since I was in high school, so, by now, private investigator Kinsey Millhone feels like an old friend. I love her stubborn independence, her converted garage apartment, her all-purpose wrinkle-free black dress, and her love of Quarter Pounders with Cheese. Kinsey is a little prickly and rough around the edges, but still endearing. In U is for Undertow, Kinsey returns for her 21st mystery and I think it is one of Grafton’s best yet.

The case starts when Michael Sutton arrives unannounced at Kinsey’s office with an odd problem. He recently remembered that on his 6th birthday he accidentally came across two men burying a large bundle in the woods. At the time, he thought they were pirates burying their treasure, but now he thinks it could be related to the disappearance of Mary Claire Fitzhugh, a little girl who was kidnapped around the same time. It’s been 20 years, but Michael wants Kinsey to poke around in the cold case and see what she can find out. The story goes back and forth between Kinsey’s present day in 1988 and the events in 1967 that lead up to Mary Claire’s disappearance.

I actually had low expectations for U is for Undertow because, despite my longstanding love for Grafton, I was pretty unimpressed by S is for Silence and T is for Trespass. But I simply couldn’t resist ordering the latest Kinsey Millhone book from the library and I’m glad that I did. I was instantly hooked by the story and curious how Kinsey would go about solving a case that’s 20 years old. Grafton is very detailed in her writing; from describing the mundane details of Kinsey’s day to the methodical way she investigates cases. I love these details because I think they bring Kinsey to life and I enjoy her process of solving cases. In Kinsey’s world it’s still 1988, so instead of doing a quick Internet search for information, she has to go to the library and use the reference books (ahh, the good ole days). I think the lack of technology makes her sleuthing a lot more interesting to read about.

I doubt there are many mystery lovers out there that aren’t familiar with Sue Grafton, but if you haven’t read one of her books, I highly recommend U is for Undertow. Grafton provides enough background so that first time readers won’t be confused. My only regret is that I didn’t read it a few weeks earlier so that I could’ve included it on my Favorite Books of 2009 list.

Quotes from U is for Undertow:

What fascinates me about life is that now and then the past rises up and declares itself. Afterward, the sequence of events seems inevitable, but only because cause and effect have been aligned in advance.

In my ten years as a private eye, this was the first case I ever managed to resolve without crossing paths with the bad guys. Except at the end, of course.

“Actually, what he said was you were like a little terrier when it came to flushing out rats.”
“Sucking up,” I said. Mentally, I was rolling my eyes because Cheney wasn’t far off the mark. I liked picking at problems and this was a doozy.

For supper I made myself a peanut butter and pickle sandwich. Recently I’d been making an effort to upgrade my diet, which meant cutting down on the French fries and Quarter Pounders with Cheese that had been my mainstays. A peanut butter and pickle sandwich was never going to qualify as the pinnacle on the food pyramid, but it was the best I could do.

Looking down I could see the telltale muddy plume where a sandbar had formed, and the waves were breaking differently from how they did a hundred years on each side. Most people think of the effluence as a riptide, but the proper term is “rip current.” Tides are the function of the moon’s gravitational pull. A rip current is a treacherous outflow that runs in a narrow line perpendicular to the beach, sometimes extending as far as twenty-five hundred feet. The term “undertow,” used to describe the same phenomenon, is a misnomer as well.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars | Publisher: Putnam Adult | Pages: 416 | Source: Library | Buy on Amazon

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