Among the extensive collections by a number of authors were the first 17 installments of Sue Graftons best-selling series about private investigator Kinsey Millhone, which have been done in alphabetical fashion. The latest, “Q is for Quarry“ was there, as well. Knowing that it had immediately shot to the top of the best seller lists after its recent publication, and has remained there since, I asked for an explain as to what all the fuss was about. My ignorance earned me a bit of a tongue-lashing, but by the evenings end, I was comfortably settled in with Graftons newest in my hands.
Big mistake. I really needed the sleep, and couldnt put this page-turner down.
“Q is for Quarry“ is based on an unsolved homicide that took place in Santa Barbara County in 1969. Grafton became intrigued with the case, and her interest spurred police to re-open the file and exhume the body during the past year. A highly regarded forensic artist did the facial reconstruction that appears in the closing pages of the book, and Grafton and the investigators from the Santa Barbara Sheriff‘s Department are hoping the picture will spark memories or recognition from someone and lead to a positive identification.
When the victim, “Jane Doe“ was laid to rest again after having been exhumed, many officers were present at the burial. “It‘s eerie,“ Grafton writes, “to think about the power this woman still has. Here we are, thirty-three years later, and she still wants to go home.“
Graftons tale centers around Jane Doe, an unidentified, young, white female whose decomposed body was discovered near a quarry off California‘s Highway 1. Her hands had been bound with wire, her throat slashed, and her body covered with stab wounds. The detectives of the Santa Teresa County Sheriff‘s Department run into nothing but dead ends trying to learn who she was, who murdered her, and why.
After 18 years, the case remained unsolved. Stacey Oliphant, now retired, and ailing Con Dolan, the two men who found the body, want a last shot at trying to crack the mystery before completely putting their law enforcement careers behind them. They turn to p.i. Kinsey Millhone, who is moved by their desire to bring closure to the murder, and agrees to help.
In the opening pages, we meet (or in most cases get reacquainted with) the smart, tenacious Millhone. Grafton writes:
“It was Wednesday, the second week in April, and Santa Teresa was making a wanton display of herself. The lush green of winter, with its surfeit of magenta and salmon bougainvillea, had erupted anew in a splashy show of crocuses, hyacinths, and flowering plum trees. The skies were a mild blue, the air balmy and fragrant. Violets dotted the grass. I was tired of spending my days closeted in the hall of records, searching out grant deeds and tax liens for clients who were, doubtless, happily pursuing tennis, golf, and other idle amusements.
I suppose I was suffering from a mutant, possibly incurable form of spring fever, which consisted of feeling bored, restless, and disconnected from humanity at large. My name is Kinsey Millhone. I‘m a private detective in Santa Teresa, California, ninety-five miles north of Los Angeles. I‘d be turning thirty-seven on May 5, which was coming up in four weeks, an event that was probably contributing to my general malaise. I lead a stripped-down existence untroubled by bairn, pets, or living household plants.
On February 15, two months before, I‘d moved into new offices, having separated myself from my association with the law firm of Kingman and Ives. Lonnie Kingman had purchased a building on lower State Street, and though he‘d offered to take me with him, I felt it was time to be out on my own.
That was my first mistake.
My second was an unfortunate encounter with two landlords in a deal that went sour and left me out in the cold.
My third office-related error was the one I now faced. In desperation, I‘d rented space in a nondescript cottage on Caballeria Lane, where a row of identical stucco bungalows were lined up at the curb like the Three Little Pigs. The block-short, narrow, and lined with cars-ran between Santa Teresa Street and Arbor, a block north of Via Madrina, in the heart of downtown. While the price was right and the location was excellent-in easy walking distance of the courthouse, the police station, and the public library-the office itself fell woefully short of ideal...The whole of it smelled like mildew, and I suspected at night wee creatures scuttled around the baseboards after all the lights were turned off. By way of compensation, the building‘s owner had offered unlimited cans of an off-brand paint, and I‘d spent the better part of a week rolling coats of white latex over the former pulsating pink, a shade reminiscent of internal organs at work....On the other hand, at three fifty a month, the space was affordable and satisfied one of my basic principles in life, which is: Never, never, never, to live beyond my means. I don‘t want to be compelled to take on work to meet my overhead. The office is meant to serve me, not the other way around.“
As Kinsey and the two officers reawaken interest in the case, it incites the killer to strike again, and again. Two discoveries become key to the action - a wrecked convertible that will lead the unlikely trio to a small town in the Arizona desert, and that of a body on a ranch owned by Kinseys estranged grandmother. Family secrets, skeletons in closets, and cryptic conversations draw Kinsey closer to solving the mystery of Jane Doe, and further from answers she seeks about her own lost family.
“Q is for Quarry“ is a compelling read, and Graftons theories for what may have happened to the real Jane Doe are believable. It was a true pleasure to meet Millhone for the first time, and felt that even with 16 other adventures behind her, this work stood on its own quite comfortably. Particularly well-crafted was the relationship with Kinsey and her two older partners, and as they are characters who have never appeared in Graftons books before, chances are good they might surface again as she surely tackles the remaining nine letters in the alphabet. Until then, Ive got a little bit of catching up to do, and I look forward to it.