The last time I wrote about Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone mystery series was two and a half years ago. At that point I was up to V. Then came W — and now, of course, X. But this one breaks the mold. It’s not X is for X-ray or X is for Xylophone or even X is for Xenophobia, which has a nice ring to it in this age of Donald Trump. Nope. It’s just X. Not even X is for Ten, or X is for Abscissa, either of which would appeal to math teachers. Just plain X — with no “is for” anything.
Why? Who knows? What does it promise for Y and Z? Well, we’ll have to wait and see. And then, presumably, the series will have to end. Or perhaps it will cycle back to A as it does in modular arithmetic. Or perhaps AA as in some theatre seats. Or perhaps Greek letters (Alpha is for Alphabet, anyone?).
Well, no use speculating. We’ll have to wait and see.
Anyhow, by this point we’re nearing the end of the ’80s, where Grafton places her novels since the plots often depend on the absence of cell phones and Internet. (Yes, the Internet existed, but nobody used it yet outside of universities and government.) There are several threads to the story, but they all weave together satisfactorily by the end of the book. Most importantly (says I) there’s cryptography in the story! And the description is almost accurate, which is impressive for a work of popular fiction. It’s just a simple substitution cipher based on the typewriter keyboard, but that’s all right, it’s still cryptography. As always, the characters are familiar and engaging, the story line is entertaining, and there’s a certain amount of dramatic tension without hitting the reader over the head with it. I even learned a sure-fire technique for saving water in drought-stricken California. (You’ll have to read the book to find out the secret. But then don’t do it.)
So yes, you should read this book. But don’t start with it if you’ve never yet read any of the Kinsey Millhone novels. Ideally you should start with A, and then of course B, and C, and so forth all the way to X. If you can’t bear to do that, then at least read W (W is for Wasted) before tackling X. Characters and plots continue from book to book throughout the entire series — it is genuinely a series — even though each one is technically a stand-alone work. So you can read X by itself, but you will have a deeper appreciation for it if you’ve read W beforehand.
By the way, Santa Teresa (the locale of the series) is a slightly disguised version of Santa Barbara. It was first so named by Ross Macdonald and then continued by Grafton in tribute to him.