REVIEW: X, BY SUE GRAFTON

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In the opening pages of X,  (Kinsey Millhone Book # 24), we meet Teddy Xanakis, who is determined to somehow steal a valuable painting from the home she once shared with her ex-husband. She believes it is hidden in the basement, and hopes to develop the perfect plan. If she can get her hands on it, she can have its value assessed.

Fast-forward to Santa Teresa, CA, where Kinsey Millhone is plugging away as a private investigator, working, as usual, on a few cases. We get to see old familiar faces, like Henry, from whom she rents her studio garage apartment; the staff at Rosie’s diner, a favorite watering hole down the street; and Ruthie, a friend from the past, whose husband Pete Wolinsky, now deceased, once worked with Kinsey while she was training at the Byrd-Shine Detective agency.

Assorted detectives and probation officers fill the canvas, and soon we see Kinsey meeting up with a woman who needs help finding out about her birth son, who has been in prison. The woman invites her to her spacious home and pays her cash for the job. She says her name is Hallie Bettancourt, and that her son is Christian Satterfield, imprisoned for several bank robberies and now released.

Soon we learn that Hallie’s tale is fake, that the home was not hers, and nothing at all is what it seems.

Set in the eighties, the novel reflects the absence of current technology, but also mirrors some of our current issues in California, like the ongoing drought.

To what lengths will Kinsey go to find out what is happening? What will she do about some notes that Pete left behind that somehow connect to an old lawsuit? Why does the name Ned Lowe keep popping up? And who is breaking into Kinsey’s office and Ruthie’s home, just to mess things up and flaunt his or her activities?

As with all my previous favorites from this author, this novel takes the reader on a roller coaster ride, and along the way, we watch Kinsey following people of interest, and sit with her while she takes part in stakeouts. Nothing is boring about her activities, as we are gifted with her internal monologue; we capture a glimpse of how her mind works. We learn a little more about her every time we turn a page. I enjoyed the traits that make her interesting, like her dogged persistence when working a case, her friends and their quirky traits, and her fondness for peanut butter and pickle sandwiches. She shares bits and pieces about her various love interests as some of them show up in the present.

Just as life does not offer a gift-wrapped resolution to all loose ends, this novel does not either, but it leaves us with the possibility that justice will prevail. I enjoyed everything about this book and loved how Kinsey left us with some philosophical conclusions of her own. 5 stars.

***I received this e-ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: BALTIMORE BLUES, BY LAURA LIPPMAN

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In the first book of the Tess Monaghan series, Baltimore Blues (Tess Monaghan Novel Book 1), Tess is feeling adrift. It has been two years since her newspaper job ended, and she has yet to discover her new “true passion.”

Meanwhile, she does odd jobs and works in her Aunt Kitty’s bookstore, while living upstairs in a tiny apartment. She has regular routines, however, like daily exercise, including running and the occasional rowing with her friend Rock (Darryl Paxton).

One day, he asks her for a favor, for which he will pay her what will be a rather nice amount, so she agrees. He wants her to follow his fiancé, Ava Hill, who works for a well-known law firm in Baltimore. She is reluctant, but soon finds herself immersed in it all. Could this kind of work be her new passion?

But what Tess discovers leads to a series of unfortunate incidents. Ava seems to be having an affair with one of her bosses, Michael Abramowitz, and Tess somehow threatens Ava into telling Rock herself, before she does. What she hadn’t anticipated would be Ava lying and making it sound as if Abramowitz had “forced” her.

So when Abramowitz ends up dead, shortly after Rock had been to see him, Rock is arrested and charged with the murder.

His lawyer, another old rowing buddy, convinces Tess to continue working as an investigative assistant, searching for possible suspects or ways to create reasonable doubt.

From there, the story takes a number of somewhat curious turns as Tess follows one clue after another, revealing to the reader how much she still has to learn. Much of what she discovers could be considered accidental, and where it all ends up is rather serendipitous. But in the end, there is a satisfactory resolution. A few other casualties along the way make it all seem realistic for a novice detective.

I have read and enjoyed several books in this series, and my favorite parts involve Tess in her surroundings, with her friends, while enjoying an insider’s view of her world. This first outing was not my favorite, but I have added Tess to my list of intriguing detectives. 4.0 stars.