Kinsey Millhone Mystery Series, Book #25
I am astonished that in more than two years writing this blog, I have never before reviewed one of Sue Grafton’s outstanding Kinsey Millhone novels. Kinsey is Grafton’s smart, cranky private investigator who relentlessly digs into the cases she is hired to solve and many mysteries she feels compelled to solve, if only to satisfy her own curiosity. Kinsey narrates all of the alphabetically named books in the series; beginning with A is for Alibi and ending (for now) with book number twenty-five, Y is for Yesterday.
In this most recent installment, the year is 1989 and Kinsey is back home in Santa Teresa California, recovering from nearly being killed by a serial killer who she tracked down in book twenty-four, X. The serial killer got away, but Kinsey has gathered enough evidence of his murders to have the man living on the run, being hunted by the FBI and several California police departments. In a display of her typical hard-headedness and refusal to quit or leave it to the authorities, Kinsey is still on the look out for the serial killer.
To pay the bills, Kinsey accepts a case from the wealthy local McCabe family who want her to look into who might have sent them a blackmail letter demanding $25,000. The couple’s son, Fritz McCabe, has only recently been released from prison where he served ten years for his role in the death of a high-school classmate in 1979. Enclosed in the blackmail letter, is a videotape that has highly damaging footage of Fritz that would almost certainly send him back to prison.
Despite her insistence that they should go to the police, the McCabe family implores Kinsey to look into the threat. If they go to the police, they will have to reveal the contents of the videotape and their son’s will likely be charged with another crime. Against her better judgment to shield Fritz (whom she instantly dislikes) from the police, Kinsey takes the case.
To begin looking into the blackmail demand, Kinsey must first research the murder that Fritz was an accomplice to; she is certain that the two crimes must be linked together. As always, her instincts are correct.
Kinsey learns that in 1979 Fritz and three other boys from an elite private high-school had brutally raped a 14-year-old female classmate and videotaped the entire assault. When the tape was stolen from the young men, they panicked knowing that they would be arrested if it is found. The boys learned that another classmate, Sloan Stevens, had the tape. When their attempts to bully Sloan into turning over the tape fail, the boys went further: they lured her to a remote cabin in the hills above Santa Teresa. Sloan was kidnapped, dragged into the woods, shot in the head and buried in a shallow grave.
Two of the boys were sent to jail for her murder, another was found to have played a role but was not sent to jail, and the fourth boy — the one whose father owned the gun and the cabin; the one who police believed to be the mastermind of the murder — took off and was never found.
Ten years later, the tape has resurfaced and a copy is now in the hands of Kinsey Millhone who has been entrusted with keeping it secret, and with keeping Fritz McCabe from going back to jail. Kinsey must simultaneously investigate the sexual assault, the murder of Sloan Stevens, and the blackmail attempt in the hopes that one of the players in these heinous crimes is stirring up the trouble. Oh, and she’s still hunting a serial killer…it’s a busy month.
Even though she is disgusted with Fritz McCabe and the other students who raped one girl and murdered another, Kinsey feels compelled to solve the mystery, Not to protect them, but in the hope that she can put all of the perpetrators back in jail where they belong once she is finished.