Thursday, 16 April 2015

U is for Undertow by Sue Grafton



published 2009




U is for Undertow


I let myself into the studio and dropped my shoulder bag on a kitchen stool. I moved to the sitting area, turning on a couple of lamps to brighten the room. I went up the spiral staircase to the sleeping loft, where I perched on the edge of the platform bed and pulled off my boots. Most days, my work attire is casual —jeans, a turtleneck , and boots or tennis shoes. I can add a tweed blazer if I feel the need to dress up. Though I’m capable of skirts and panty hose, they’re not my first choice. I do own one dress that I’m happy to say is suitable for most occasions. It’s black, made of a fabric so wrinkle-resistant, if I rolled it up and stored it in my shoulder bag, you’d never know the difference.

[For a later event:]

I stood in front of my closet, wrapped in a towel, staring at my clothes for one full minute, which was a long time, given that in ten minutes more I was expected to present myself fully dressed. I nixed the all-purpose dress . Though comfortable, the garment is looking a bit shopworn, which is not to say I won’t be wearing it for years.

 
observations: I’ve followed this series all the way, even though I am sometimes a couple of years behind, and it seems almost daring to try actually to picture Kinsey’s famous all-purpose dress, but I do like the version that I chose above. She considers her wardrobe a lot in this book, and even tries to emulate another young woman. And, she uses the word ‘choners’, which I have never come across – it’s a term for underwear apparently. Kinsey has decided that black tights will make her look smarter and is committed to investing in some. Good to hear.

I really enjoyed most of this book, though the other 10% was infuriating. The different POVs didn’t annoy me, and the different time schemes were OK – but then at the end, there is a section with 3rd person narration, and Kinsey suddenly emerges into it, back into 1st person. Someone should have told her she can’t do that. And as ever, there are massive unresolved issues with the plot. This is a feature of the books, and has always seemed particularly annoying because usually Kinsey is writing as if she is making her report to a client (or somebody – not always clear). In this one, there is a witness who has seen something important. It is then conclusively proved (without any room for doubt) that this person must be mistaken. But in the end it seems this person was right, but it is not explained how this could be. It is a very very major plot point in the book, and I am utterly mystified as to what was going on. If anyone has read the book and can explain this I would love to hear about it.

Kinsey’s detailed descriptions of what she is up to is one of the joys of the books, but still she can go too far. This:
It wasn’t long before the taxpayers were forced to buy a $ 250,000 dredge and a $ 127,000 tender in a perpetual effort to keep the harbor open, at an annual expenditure of $ 100,000.
-- doesn’t really belong in a PI novel, even if there is a faint connection with ‘undertow’. 

And I have complained recently of too much detail of meals: this level of description verges on the ludicrous:
Annabelle shrugged and chose a roll from the basket. She pulled off one segment and buttered it. She took a bite and tucked the nugget of bread into one side of her cheek, a move that slightly muffled her speech.
But, well, I keep reading and I keep (overall) enjoying, even if I am left with a lot of questions at the end.

The black dress is from ASOS. T is for Trespass is here on the blog.








20 comments:

  1. That's exactly how I've always pictured that little black dress! I think you chose exactly the right 'photo. And as to the novels, I think some of them do have too much emphasis on those little details. And I don't share Kinsey's views on some major things, so sometimes that's an issue for me. But it is one of those series that keeps your attention isn't it?

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    1. I know what you mean about Kinsey - she's a great character, but sometimes I am very surprised by the things she says and the attitudes she has. But, as you say, we do keep reading don't we?

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  2. I doubt I will ever get as far as you with this series. I have most of them and was going along nicely until I got to the end of A is for Alibi, then I sort of fell off and got side-tracked.

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    1. Well you are quite a long way behind! Presumably she will stop at Z, and then you can start your catchup efforts.

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  3. Moira, I'm afraid I have not read any of Grafton's alphabet novels even though I'm her books are very popular.

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    1. Now Prashant, you are going to have to take a look! At least try one - A for Alibi of course....

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  4. I'm a constant reader of Grafton's alphabet series, it wasn't until you did this post that I realized that my version of Kinsey's talented dress has 3/4-length sleeves! The version in my head is like this or like this .

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    1. Oh yes Margaret, yours are excellent, and you could well be right about 3/4 sleeves. I think your second one - I like the length. When I was looking I was keen to get my (imaginary) length right, not too short seemed important to me...

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  5. Moira: I found it hard to enjoy the book as I found the cast of characters quite unlikeable.

    How about Sue in a little black dress - https://encrypted-tbn2.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRbJ5yBQhrGWJi7nyzQ13mGBjLuUfDUfsJ0qrmOEE0uDNxdNlxcKw

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    1. I think this series either grabs you in or puts you off completely. The picture is great - she looks very elegant, and more relaxed than Kinsey!

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  6. You sound like me, getting irritated with some elements in a series but continuing to read them anyway. Except that I hardly keep up with a series anymore.

    I read Sue Grafton's series A - E or F then stopped. This was back in the 80's when they were coming out. A few years ago I got G, H, and I but still haven't read them. I should. Especially since they are set in a fictionalized version of Santa Barbara. Her first book was published 2 years after we moved here.

    And the comment about choners took me back in time. I haven't heard that term, but my son's day care provider (when he was a toddler) used to call his underwear "chonies." I had completely forgotten that.

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    1. Oh, I thought choners must be modern slang! I'd find it hard to resist books set in my hometown, does it seem familiar? I live in a town of similar size, and I was intrigued that Kinsey told us there were 25 PIs in the local area - I don't think my town would support that much investigating!

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    2. I think I remember that there were spots that she mentioned that were familiar. But when I read those early books, I was new to the area and wasn't that familiar with it anyway. I will have to push one of her books toward the top of my reading list.

      I have only lived in Santa Barbara proper for 3 years of the time we have been here. Otherwise always in unincorporated areas and there are lots of those. Santa Barbara's population is about 90,000, but with the surrounding urban areas comes up to about 220,000, and the numbers have been similar since I moved here. Not much growth.

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    3. Oh you must read more and blog on the comparisons between Santa Barbara and Santa Teresa!

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    4. I just (last night) finished G is for Gumshoe. I enjoyed it a lot. The references to Santa Barbara and the story.

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  7. I read this one but can't remember the points that you are raising. Perhaps if I see a summary of the plot online, it will refresh my memory.

    Nice black dress, a staple of Kinsey Millhone's and probably most women detectives.

    I have read several of these books just because when one need an escapist, diversionary weekend, it's pleasant to plow into Kinsey's world and read. Very simple, easy, no stress, don't have to think too much or deal with gruesome murders. And her host of friends perk up the books.

    I also don't agree with her views on many issues, including guns, the relationship of poverty to crime and the criminal justice system, to name a few. There isn't much in the way of understanding the desperate circumstances that some people fall into and, especially that women can fall into.

    But I do read the books and probably had the same reaction to the plot point that you are raising here.

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    1. Your reaction to book and series are exactly mine Kathy - can't agree with all aspects of Kinsey, but she doesn't annoy me enough to put me off. And the incidentals of the books are always enjoyable.

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  8. I've never heard of choners! So I learned something new. Are they any particular type of underwear?

    I started reading about V.I. Warshawski and Sharon McCone when the books were published, Kinsey Millhone a bit later. But these were the independent women private detectives written about after the women's movement over here. And while I had read about so many male detectives, I was so eager to read these books I dived right into them. I have many of Marcia Muller's series and several of Sara Paretsky's on my shelf and can't bear to give them away.

    It meant a lot in those days. Now there are many more independent, feisty women detectives, but Paretsky, Grafton and Muller were the pioneers over here.

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    1. Apparently choners are any kind of underwear, men's or women's, according to an online dictionary.
      Yes I'm glad you have reminded me that those first women PIs in books really were breaking new ground.

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