S is for Silence


I make it no secret that I am a big fan of Sue Grafton. I think I may want to be Sue someday when I grow up. In the last couple of months, I have been revisiting her work, starting with the first in the series, and working my way through the alphabet. Over the course of the series, you get to know Kinsey Millhone, the practical, tough, and very human private investigator who lives in the idyllic town of Santa Theresa California. In her earlier books, Grafton worked very hard to disguise the lovely Santa Barbara, surrounding towns, but apparently, the secret is out after 19 books, and this time the main action takes place in Santa Maria, further up the coast from Santa Theresa.  As far as I know, there is no actual town of Serena Station.

S is for Silence is by far my favorite of the series. There is a film noir quality about the book as the action shifts not only from the “present” day of 1987, but 34 years earlier to 1953 and the disappearance of a woman who is widely believed to have run off. Kinsey is called on by Daisy, the woman’s daughter who was 7 years old when her mother disappeared. Daisy has decided it is time to answer a very simple, but profound question – Did her mother simply abandon her?

Unlike the previous books, in which the story is told strictly from Kinsey’s viewpoint, this time, we are treated to the events from the viewpoints of those who lived them. The contrasts between the past and present are drawn clearly, both underscoring how far we have come, and how little has really changed.  (There are several lesbian characters in the book, which would have been shocking in 1953 but is never made an issue in the slightest in the 1987 scenes, while the promiscuity of the central figure and missing woman is still causing ripples of shock and dismay.) It is easy to picture the older, flashback scenes as if they were done in black and white, and the character of Violet as some Hollywood starlet, while the more modern scenes are clearly in color, with more up to date characters.

More than anything else, this book is about relationships: The relationship between parents and children here, the complexities of friendships, relationships between spouses, and looser relationships among long-standing acquaintances. It is about how our perceptions shape our reality. The pacing is fast, and even as a re-read, I found myself pushing through to the end. We weave in and out of the lives of the players in a relatively small town.  Kinsey is her same self, though perhaps a gentler and as is appropriate, more mature Kinsey than we have seen before. We are still led on a merry chase of misdirection and frustration as she struggles to put the pieces together. I will say, in this case, while the endings to Grafton’s books always surprise me, this one really did catch me off guard.

My review – 5 of 5 stars this time.

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