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The Ocean Street Motel in Floral Beach, California, is located, oddly enough, on Ocean Street, a stone's throw from the sea wall that slants ten feet down toward the Pacific. The beach is a wide band of beige trampled with footprints that are smoothed away by the high tide every day. Public access is afforded by a set of concrete stairs with a metal rail. A wooden fishing pier, built out into the water, is anchored at the near end by the office of the Port Harbor Authority, which is painted a virulent blue.
Seventeen years ago, Jean Timberlake's body had been found at the foot of the sea wall, but the spot wasn't visible from where I stood. At the time, Bailey Fowler, an ex-boyfriend of hers, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. Now he'd changed his tune. Every violent death represents the climax of one story and an introduction to its sequel. My job was to figure out how to write the proper ending to the tale, not easy after so much time had elapsed.
Floral Beach has a population so modest the number isn't even posted on a sign anywhere. The town is six streets long and three streets deep, all bunched up against a steep hill largely covered with weeds. There may be as many as ten businesses along Ocean: three restaurants, a gift shop, a pool hall, a grocery store, a T-shirt shop that rents boogie boards, a Frostee-Freeze, and an art gallery. Around the corner on Palm, there's a pizza parlor and a Laundromat. Everything closes down after five o'clock except the restaurants. Most of the cottages are one-story board-and-batten, painted pale green or white, built in the thirties by the look of them. The lots are small and fenced, many with power boats moored in the side yards. Sometimes the boats are in better condition than the properties on which they sit. There are several boxy stucco apartment buildings with names like the Sea View, the Tides, and the Surf 'n' Sand. The whole town resembles the backside of some other town, but it has a vaguely familiar feel to it, like a shabby resort where you might have spent a summer as a kid.
The motel itself is three stories high, painted lime green, with a length of sidewalk in front that peters out into patchy grass. I'd been given a room on the second floor with a balcony that allowed me to look left as far as the oil refinery (surrounded by chain-link fence and posted with warning signs) and to my right as far as Port Harbor Road, a quarter of a mile away. A big resort hotel with a golf course is tucked up along the hill, but the kind of people who stay there would never come down here, despite the cheaper rates.
It was late afternoon and the February sun was setting so rapidly it appeared to be defying the laws of nature. The surf thundered dully, waves washing toward the sea wall like successive buckets of soapy water being sloshed up on the sand. The wind was picking up, but it made no sound, probably because Floral Beach has so few trees. The sea gulls had assembled for supper, settling on the curb to peck at foodstuffs spilling out of the trashcans. Since it was a Tuesday, there weren't many tourists, and the few hardy souls who had walked the beach earlier had fled when the temperature began to drop.
I left the sliding glass door ajar and went back to the table where I was typing up a preliminary report.
My name is Kinsey Millhone. I'm a private investigator, licensed by the state of California, operating ordinarily in the town of Santa Teresa, ninety-five miles north of Los Angeles. Floral Beach is another hour and a half farther up the coast. I'm thirty-two years old, twice married, no kids, currently unattached and likely to remain so given my disposition, which is cautious at best. At the moment, I didn't even have a legitimate address. I'd been living with my landlord, Henry Pitts, while my garage apartment was being rebuilt. My stay at the Ocean Street Motel was being underwritten by Bailey Fowler's father, who had hired me the day before.
I had just moved back into my office, newly refurbished by California Fidelity, the insurance company that accords me space in exchange for my services. The walls had been painted a fresh white. The carpeting was slate blue, a short-pile wool shag that cost twenty-five bucks a yard (exclusive of padding and installation, folks). I know this because I peeked at the invoice the day the carpet was laid. My file cabinet was in place, my desk arranged near the French doors as usual, a new Sparklett's water cooler plugged in and ready to provide both hot and cold trickling water, depending on which button I pushed. This was classy stuff and I was feeling pretty good, almost recovered from the injuries I'd sustained on the last case I worked. Since I'm self-employed, I pay my disability insurance before I even pay my rent.
My first impression of Royce Fowler was of a oncerobust man whose aging processes had accelerated suddenly. I guessed him to be in his seventies, somewhat shrunken from an impressive six foot four. It was clear from the way his clothing hung that he'd recently dropped maybe thirty pounds. He looked like a farmer, a cowboy, or a roustabout, someone accustomed to grappling with the elements. His white hair was thinning, combed straight back, with ginger strands still visible along his ears. His eyes were ice blue, brows and lashes sparse, his pale skin mottled with broken capillaries. He used a cane, but the big hands he kept folded together on the crook of it were as steady as stone and speckled with liver spots. He'd been helped into the chair by a woman I thought might be a nurse or a paid companion. He didn't see well enough to drive himself around.
"I'm Royce Fowler," he said. His voice was gravelly and strong. "This is my daughter, Ann. My wife would have driven down with us, but she's a sick woman and I told her to stay at home. We live in Floral Beach."
I introduced myself and shook hands with them both. There was no family resemblance that I could see. His facial features were oversized—big nose, high cheekbones, strong chin—while hers were apologetic. She had dark hair and a slight overbite that should have been corrected when she was a kid.
The quick mental flash I had of Floral Beach was of summer cottages gone to seed and wide, empty streets lined with pickup trucks. "You drove down for the day?"
"I had an appointment at the clinic," he rumbled. "What I got, they can't treat, but they take my money anyway. I thought we should talk to you, as long as we're in town."
His daughter stirred, but said nothing. I pegged her at forty-some and wondered if she still lived at home. So far, she'd avoided making eye contact with me.
I don't do well at small talk, so I shifted down a gear into business mode. "What can I do for you, Mr. Fowler?"
His smile was bitter. "I take it the name doesn't mean much to you."
"Rings a dim bell," I said. "Can you fill me in?"
"My son, Bailey, was arrested in Downey three weeks ago by mistake. They figured out pretty quick they had the wrong man, so they released him within a day. Then I guess they turned around and ran a check on him, and his prints came up a match. He was rearrested night before last."
I nearly said, "A match with what?" but then my memory gave a lurch. I'd seen an article in the local paper. "Ah, yes," I said. "He escaped from San Luis sixteen years ago, didn't he?"
"That's right. I never heard from him after the escape and finally decided he was dead. The boy nearly broke my heart and I guess he's not done yet."
The California Men's Colony near San Luis Obispo is a two-part institution; a minimum-security unit for old men, and a medium-security facility divided into four six-hundred-man sections. Bailey Fowler had apparently walked away from a work detail and hopped on the freight train that rumbled past the prison twice a day back then.
"How'd he get tripped up?"
"There was a warrant out on a fellow named Peter Lambert, the name he was using. He says he was booked, fingerprinted, and in the can before they realized they had the wrong man. As I understand it, some hot-shoe detective got a bug up his butt and ran Bailey's prints through some fancy-pants new computer system they got down there. That's how they picked up on the fugitive warrant. By a damn fluke."
"Bum deal for him," I said. "What's he going to do?"
"I hired him a lawyer. Now he's back, I want him cleared."
"You're appealing the conviction?"
Ann seemed on the verge of a response, but the old man plowed right over her.
"Bailey never went to trial. He made a deal. Pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter on the advice of this court-appointed PD, the worthless son of a bitch."
"Really," I said, wondering why Mr. Fowler hadn't hired a lawyer for him at the time. I also wondered what kind of evidence the prosecution had. Usually, the DA won't make a deal unless he knows his case is weak. "What's the new attorney telling you so far?"
"He won't commit himself until he sees the files, but I want to make sure he has all the help he can get. There's no such thing as a private detective up in Floral Beach, which is why we came to you. We need someone to go to work, dig in and see if there's anything left. Couple witnesses died and some have moved away. The whole thing's a damn mess and I want it straightened out."
"How soon would you need me?"
Royce shifted in his chair. "Let's talk money first."
"Fine with me," I said. I pulled out a standard contract and passed it across the desk to him. "Thirty dollars an hour, plus expenses. I'd want an advance."
"I bet you would," he said tartly, but the look in his eyes indicated no offense. "What do I get?"
"I don't know yet. I can't work miracles. I guess it depends on how cooperative the county sheriff's department is."
"I wouldn't count on them. Sheriff's department doesn't like Bailey. They never liked him much, and his escape didn't warm any hearts. Made all those people look like idiots."
"Where's he being held?"
"L.A. County Jail. He's being moved up to San Luis tomorrow is what we heard."
"Have you talked to him?"
"Just briefly yesterday."
"Must have been a shock."
"I thought I was hearing things. Thought I'd had a stroke."
Ann spoke up. "Bailey always told Pop he was innocent."
"Well, he is!" Royce snapped. "I said that from the first. He never would have killed Jean under any circumstance."
"I'm not arguing, Pop. I'm just telling her."
Royce didn't bother to apologize, but his tone underwent a change. "I don't have long," he went on. "I want this squared away before I go. You find out who killed her and I'll see there's a bonus."
"That's not necessary," I said. "You'll get a written report once a week and we can talk as often as you like."
"All right, then. I own a motel up in Floral Beach. You can stay free of charge for as long as you need. Take your meals with us. Ann here cooks."
She flashed a look at him. "She might not want to take her meals with us."
"Let her say so, if that's the case. Nobody's forcing her to do anything."
She colored up at that but said nothing more.
Nice family, I thought. I couldn't wait to meet the rest. Ordinarily, I don't take on clients sight unseen, but I was intrigued by the situation and I needed the work, not for the money so much as my mental health. "What's the timetable here?"
"You can drive up tomorrow. The attorney's in San Luis. He'll tell you what he wants."
I filled out the contract and watched Royce Fowler sign. I added my signature, gave him one copy, and kept the other for my files. The check he took from his wallet was already made out to me in the amount of two grand. The man had confidence, I had to give him that. I glanced at the clock as the two of them left. The entire transaction hadn't taken more than twenty minutes.
I closed the office early and dropped my car off at the mechanic's for a tune-up. I drive a fifteen-year-old VW, one of those homely beige models with assorted dents. It rattles and it's rusty, but it's paid for, it runs fine, and it's cheap on gas. I walked home from the garage through a perfect February afternoon—sunny and clear, with the temperature hovering in the sixties. Winter storms had been blowing through at intervals since Christmas and the mountains were dark green, the fire danger laid to rest until summer rolled around again.
I live near the beach on a narrow side street that parallels Cabana Boulevard. My garage apartment, flattened by a bomb during the Christmas holidays, had now been reframed, though Henry was being coy about the plans he'd drawn up. He and the contractor had had their heads bent together for weeks, but so far he'd declined to let me see the blueprints.
I don't spend a lot of time at home, so I didn't much care what the place looked like. My real worry was that Henry would make it too large or too opulent and I'd feel obliged to pay him accordingly. My current rent is only two hundred bucks a month, unheard-of these days. With my car paid for and my office space underwritten by California Fidelity, I can live very well on a modest monthly sum. I don't want an apartment too fancy for my pocketbook. Still, the property is his and he can do with it as he pleases. Altogether, I thought it best to mind my own business and let him do what suited him.
Excerpted from Is for Fugitive by SUE GRAFTONCopyright © 1989 by Sue GraftonPublished in December 2005 by St. Martin's Press
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
F is for Fugitive becomes the sixth installment in the Millhone's series, and Sue Grafton doesn't fail in delivering a brilliant and well-crafted novel. Grafton delivers another outstanding mystery, a page turner with twist and turns. An exquisite lineup of characters make F is for Fugitive, much alike as previous installments; the narrative technique that Grafton uses is simple and eloquent. Grafton has a way to unfold the story, and make Kinsey's character very truthful. F is for Fugitive puts Kinsey on the task to uncover who really killed Jean Timberlake, seventeen years after Bailey Fowler plead guilty and was convicted. One year later he escaped from prison to never be seen again. He became a fugitive. F is for Fugitive is beautiful because as the series progresses and the novel unfolds Grafton gives us another insight into Kinsey's life. F is for Fugitive makes no exception. As she puts it " Every violent death represents the climax of one story and an introduction to its sequel" The story is a reflection of that and how the characters' lives were affected by it. Grafton is magnificent in wrapping the story, and giving Kinsey a lot of room to reflect on her own life. F is for fugitive has one of the most delicate endings when it comes to kinsey's character, and somehow becomes unforgettable.
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Posted February 18, 2010
I Also Recommend:
'F is For Fugitive' is worthy of a five-star rating because Sue Grafton has written this book with: acute descriptions, an awesome plot, and wonderful clues to keep the reader guessing about the murderer's identity till the very end. This book shows how a detective, Kinsey Millhone, is hired to indentify the murderer who had committed the murder of a teenage girl 17 years ago! Kinsey works arduously to achieve vital pieces of evidence, and has to deal with tricky situations just to solve a mystery. It is a very difficult case for her to solve and you HAVE to read till the very end to see if she actually does solve it. The book is meant for adults or young adults, since it uses grueling vocabulary.
This book is part of a remarkable series featuring the splendid female detective, Kinsey Millhone. In this book, Jean Timberlake, a high-school girl, was murdered 17 years ago, and the one accused was none other than her boyfriend, Baylee Fowler. He was sentenced to quite a few years in prison since he could not deny the charge, but after a year and a bit he becomes a fugitive, who escaped from the jail. Seventeen years later, he is caught and Royce Fowler, his father, hires Kinsey Millhone to solve the mystery behind Jean Timberlake's murder, and find the actual murderer. It brought out the best in her and helped her understand the value of a family. Sue Grafton 'weaves' this mystery so well that by the end of the book you are left dumb-founded and kicking yourself because the conclusion of the mystery made a lot of sense and seemed obvious. The criteria, according to which this book deserves full points, are based on the details put in by the author, character development, the added suspense, thoroughness of the clues, and the effect of the conclusion.
The book was a 'complete package' because its critical elements were immaculate. The plot, characters, theme, style and setting were all used in a perfect way. It was pure genius of Grafton to create that small-town atmosphere in that community. She used the background of the murder perfectly to create a feeling of how a murder case would be like to solve after a gap of 17 years. All of the characters fit in very nicely and helped develop the story. The mystery is in first person (according to Kinsey's point of view), which generates a lot of voice. All through the mystery you will see how Grafton refers to the background by adding more and more information. Every clue that Grafton uses in the book is so cleverly 'hidden', that by the end of the mystery you actually understand how they fit together. All the characters in the book are different because of their uniqueness. A lot of mystery books have been written, and this book is right up there, with the best of the lot.
All in all, this book has what it takes to keep the reader going on, page by page. As you read the book you will see: how acute the descriptions are, the effectiveness of the plot, and the numerous clues to keep the reader guessing about the murderer's identity till the very end. So, Kinsey's role in this mystery is not only to solve the mystery, but to also make sure that Baylee Fowler is unharmed. Jean Timberlake's identity as a depressed teenager also has a great role to play because the actual cause of the murder can only be found after Jean's unusual background is uncovered. If you want to read a true mystery, this would be the one I would recommend. It is a memorable. This book is definitely worth full points
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 20, 2004
Sue Grafton, the author of F is for Fugitive and the rest of the alphabet mystery books, writes another entertaining book that keeps the reader guessing about what will happen next. Kinsey Millhone, a PI. from Santa Teresa, California, is hired to track down the true killer in a murder investigation 17 years ago. The father of the accused murderer hires Kinsey to retrace the steps of the wrongfully accused son that was sent to jail for a murder he swears he didn't commit. After escaping from prison, he is picked up by the cops a year later, then his father hires Kinsey to find the real murderer. Kinsey is faced with exciting twists and turns has she hunts for the true killer to save an innocent man from going back to jail. I would recommend this book to anyone that enjoys an exciting book.
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Posted January 18, 2014
Posted October 23, 2013
F is for Fugitive by Sue Grafton is everything that I had hoped it would be. This is the first book in the series that I actually figured out before the final chapter. The writing style is amazing. One little paragraph in the middle of the book is the only one that led to the final realization. I did not know how it would end at the time, but once I finished, my mind flashed back to that paragraph and all the pieces fell into place. I have said this before about the other books in the series, but Sue Grafton weaves the individual strands of the story, then pulls them all together into the web of lies and deception at the end. Where does she come up with all of these ideas. I am a fan. Moving on to G.
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Posted December 6, 2014
Posted September 12, 2014
As usual, Sue Grafton puts together a great mystery. I'm reading them in order so obviously I've only been through a few, but haven't yet been able to figure out 'who done it' til almost the end. I like Kinsey's self-deprecating humor, it makes her seem more human. I plan to read them all!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 11, 2013
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Posted April 18, 2014
Sorry for like, causing any trouble we had last night. I think I had an MP change, but Im not exactly sure. I get that if you hate me, and Im really sorry. Im also sorry for the way Avril acted. O should have held her back or something. Im not exactly sure of youre reading thos right now, but I just wanted to say:
I'm sorry. And if you hate me and we're officially broken up, then fine. Whatever makes you happiest.
~Morgyn Ten Waterman. Moopie. Moop. Etc
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Posted April 18, 2014
Posted April 29, 2013
Posted February 15, 2013
I have just recently became a reader of Ms. Grafton. But I have fallen in love with her Kinsy Millhone character. She is gutsy and not afraid to take on any situation. Can't wait for the next book to come out. Love it..............Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 2, 2012
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Posted March 2, 2012
Floral Beach wasn't much of a town: six streets long and three deep, its only notable feature a strip of sand fronting the Pacific. It was on that sandy beach seventeen years ago that the strangled body of Jean Timberlake had been found.
The people of floral Beach didn't pay a whole lot of mind to past history, especially when Bailey Fowler, the self-confessed killer, had been properly processed and convicted. They weren't even unduly concerned when, a year after the murder, Fowler walked away from the men's prison at San Luis Obispo, never to be seen again. After all, everyone knew Jean had been a wild kid. "Like mother, like daughter," some said--though never within hearing of Shana Timberlake, who, whatever her faults, still mourned her murdered child.
And then, by sheer fluke, the cops stumbled on Bailey Fowler. And a case seventeen years dead came murderously to life again.
For Royce Fowler, old and sick with not much time left, his son's reappearance was the chance to heal an old wound. For Kinsey Millhone, the case was a long shot, but she agreed to take it on. She couldn't know then it would lead her to probe the passions buried just below the surface of family relations, where old wounds fester and the most cherished emotions become warped until they fuse into deadly, soul-destroying time bombs.
One of today's hottest mystery writers is back with the latest installment in her alphabet sleuth series. This multi- layered novel explores the explosive passions that reignite questions concerning the 17-year-old murder of a promiscuous teenage girl.
It was pretty good. I thought i knew who the killer was, and was kind of surprised that the killer wasn't someone that I suspected.
Posted December 23, 2011
Posted August 8, 2011