H Is for Homicide

Posted by Jason Venter (July 20, 2014)

" "H" is for Homicide" feels unlike any of the Kinsey Millhone adventures to precede it, despite starting rather conventionally with a good old-fashioned murder. A former colleague at California Fidelity has wound up dead, shortly after he passed a seemingly routine fraud case off to one of his coworkers, and Kinsey has been called upon to investigate.

The investigation will have to wait, though, because first author Sue Grafton introduces a bit of a villain. He is essentially an efficiency expert, like the John C. McGinley character in "Office Space," mixed with the Gary Cole character from the same flick. Kinsey has been given entirely too much freedom, in his estimation, and he thinks she had better start filling out a lot more paperwork to prove that she is of any use.

It's a potentially interesting thread that the novel seems primed to explore, but Grafton abandons it in favor of something quite different. As Kinsey tries to track down the mysterious woman who may be trying to defraud California Fidelity, she finds herself caught up in a case that feels more like a buddy comedy than an actual mystery.

"It may be Kinsey Millhone's most complicated and risk-filled case," the dust jacket says tantalizingly, but the actual text in the book is less impressive than the hype suggests. I occasionally enjoyed the somewhat lazy pace and some of the more in-depth character development that resulted. There also was welcome tension in a few places (even if it couldn't hold a candle to the constant threat from a dangerous hit man in "G Is for Gumshoe"), but I found my attention wandering while Kinsey reveled in the opportunity to behave like someone her previous adventures have proven she is not.

Perhaps the real problem for me is that there's not much of a mystery to unravel. Early on, Kinsey basically solves the case, and after that the reader is treated to a drawn out examination of the reality that motivated the young lady who attempted to commit fraud. Robert B. Parker has told plenty of similar stories with mixed results, but he was able to get away with it because of the interplay between his interesting lead characters. As a loner, Kinsey can't fall back on that, and most of the characters she interacts with in this novel aren't compelling. Kinsey is in the passenger seat and the experience suffers as a result.

In any event, it is good to see that Grafton is willing to shake up her formula a bit, even if I didn't particularly enjoy the results. There are still all sorts of ways she might take the series, and I look forward to experiencing the adventures that I can only imagine await me in subsequent volumes.

Rating: 6/10

Jason Venter is a freelance blogger who spends most of his time writing about games and technology. Follow him on Twitter if you dare, at @jasonventer.

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