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P Is for Peril (Kinsey Millhone Series #16)

P Is for Peril (Kinsey Millhone Series #16)

3.6 115
by Sue Grafton

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She's Kinsey Millhone, familiar to millions of readers around the globe, and she's back in full stride in P is for Peril, her latest venture into the darker side of the human soul. Mordant, mocking, and deceptively low-key, hers is a voice we know we can trust, from a character we've come to love.

Through fifteen novels, Sue Grafton has gone from


She's Kinsey Millhone, familiar to millions of readers around the globe, and she's back in full stride in P is for Peril, her latest venture into the darker side of the human soul. Mordant, mocking, and deceptively low-key, hers is a voice we know we can trust, from a character we've come to love.

Through fifteen novels, Sue Grafton has gone from strength to strength, never writing the same book twice. So it's no surprise that she has taken on new territory in her sixteenth, this time entering the world of noir. It's a world cast in shades of black amid shafts of steel and silver, a shadow land in which the mysterious disappearance of a prominent physician leads Kinsey into a danger-filled maze of duplicity and double-dealing as she taps into the intricacies of a cunning Medicare fraud.

P is for Peril: the novel in which Millhone stakes her life on a thin thread of intuition because the facts glint elusively out of reach and only guesses offer any shot at the truth.

"Unlike many detective series, Grafton's seems only to get better each time out," wrote Entertainment Weekly, and P is for Peril is a case in point. Pushing herself, reaching further with each new book, Sue Grafton delivers every time.

Author Bio: Sue Grafton is already at work on her next, Q is for Quarry.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
Sue Grafton continues her inexorable march through the alphabet with the 15th Kinsey Millhone mystery, P Is for Peril. Like its predecessors, Grafton's latest is both an elegant entertainment and a first-rate private-eye novel that honors and extends the tradition from which it springs.

The story begins when Kinsey, against her better judgment, accepts an assignment from crusty interior designer Fiona Purcell. Fiona's ex-husband, prominent Santa Theresa physician Dowan Purcell, has been missing for several weeks. Chief administrator for a nursing home called Pacific Meadows, Purcell left work at the usual time one Friday night and has not been heard from since. Local police have made little or no progress in tracing him, and Kinsey finds herself following in their footsteps, futilely attempting to make sense of an elusive, increasingly remote event.

Kinsey's investigation takes her beneath the placid surface of a respected doctor's life, revealing an unexpectedly problematic underside. The Dowan Purcell who gradually emerges is a secret drinker with a propensity for kinky sex. His second marriage -- to former stripper Crystal Muscoe -- has a carefully concealed dark side that manifests itself in the rebellious behavior of his troubled teenage stepdaughter, Leila. Purcell's professional life proves equally problematic: Pacific Meadows is currently being investigated for numerous counts of Medicare fraud. Picking her way slowly through this lethal combination of elements, Kinsey searches, with typical persistence, for the key to Dowan Purcell's disappearance.

Supplementing this central plot line is a secondary story that has perilous implications of its own. While conducting a search for affordable new office space, Kinsey stumbles across a rental opportunity that proves too good to be true, placing her in dangerously close proximity to a pair of fraternal landlords with undisclosed secrets of their own. Cutting effortlessly back and forth between these interconnected narratives, Grafton gives us yet another irresistible novel. Her bright, energetic prose, her precise eye for character and landscape, and her virtually flawless sense of pace come cleanly together once again, reaffirming Grafton's position as one of the most engaging, consistently reliable suspense novelists working in America today. (Bill Sheehan)

Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has been published by Subterranean Press (www.subterraneanpress.com).

Forbes Magazine
Another Sue Grafton alphabet mystery featuring heroine P.I. Kinsey Millhone. The ex-wife of a prominent physician retains Kinsey to find out what has happened to her mussing, onetime mate. Medicare fraud, hidden agendas galore, intriguingly flawed characters and more than a whiff of violence make this mystery a fast-paced summer read. Grafton fans will see this, the 16th in the series, as proof positive that she is getting stronger as a writer and that “P” stand for her most Perfect Production Yet. (17 Sep 2001)
—Steve Forbes
Library Journal
In her 15th alphabetical mystery, Grafton deserves an A for maintaining her series's high standard of excellence. This time private investigator Kinsey Milhone is hired by Dr. Fiona Purcell to find her ex-husband, Dowan, a prominent physician who vanished with his passport and $30,000 in cash nine weeks earlier. Wondering what she can do that the Santa Rosa police haven't done already, Kinsey takes the case and quickly discovers that the nursing home Purcell administered is being investigated for Medicare fraud. Was Purcell involved or did the facility's owners have something to do with his disappearance? And what about his second wife, ex-stripper Crystal, who Fiona believes is having an affair with her personal trainer? At the same time, Kinsey's losing streak with men continues as she is pursued romantically by her new office landlord's brother. Unfortunately for Kinsey, her new Mr. Right and his sibling are suspects in the murder of their parents. As usual, Grafton mixes an intriguing plot, well-developed characters, and humor into an entertaining summer read. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/00; a Literary Guild main selection.] Wilda Williams, "Library Journal" Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Nine weeks after Dr. Dowan Purcell left the Pacific Meadows medical facility he administered, then vanished along with his passport and $30,000, his ex-wife Fiona, disgusted alike at the Santa Teresa Police Department's lack of progress on the case and the lackadaisical attitude of Dow's current wife, ex-stripper Crystal, calls in Kinsey Millhone. What can Kinsey do that the cops haven't or can't? She can rattle the cages at Crystal's place-where her messed-up teenaged daughter Leila and her personal trainer Clint Augustine take turns creating opportunities for gossip-and at Pacific Meadows—where an investigation for Medicare fraud has blown some employees away and left the rest paranoid. Faced with the need to investigate not only Dow's big, quarrelsome family but Meadows moneymen Joel Glazer and Harvey Broadus, what's a shamus to do? Spend some quality time getting just a little too close to her new landlord's twin brother, of course, providing the heat behind Grafton's title while extending Kinsey's string of relationships with unsuitable men. After the narrow focus of Kinsey's last few alphabetical adventures, the generous canvas here is a joy, and if the wealth of characters and subplots prevents Grafton from keeping any of them in the frame for very long, the audaciously foreshortened denouement shows her heroine at her most beguiling. After twenty years updating the private-eye tradition, Grafton shows she can spin a classic yarn with all the breadth of her masters, and a sharper eye for detail than any of them.
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Product Details

Random House, Incorporated
Publication date:
Kinsey Millhone Series , #16

Read an Excerpt

The house on Old Reservoir Road appeared to be in the final phases of construction. I spotted the site as I rounded the curve, recognizing the unfinished structure from Fiona Purcell’s description. To my right, I could see a portion of the reservoir for which the road was named. Brunswick Lake fills the bottom of a geological bowl, a spring-fed body that supplied the town with drinking water for many years. In 1953 a second, larger catch basin was established, and now Brunswick is little more than an irregular blue splotchlet on maps of the area. Swimming and boating are forbidden, but seasonally the migrating water birds rest on the placid surface as they make their way south. The surrounding hills are austere, gentle swells rising to the mountains that mark the northernmost boundary of the Santa Teresa city limits.

I parked my VW on the gravel berm and crossed the two-lane road. The steeply pitched lot was still bare of landscaping and consisted entirely of raw dirt and boulders with a dusting of weeds taking hold. At street level, a big commercial Dumpster was piled high with debris. A small grove of signs planted in the yard announced the names of the building contractor, the painting contractor, and the architect, though Mrs. Purcell had been quick to assure me by phone that she’d drawn up the plans herself. The design—if that’s what you want to call it—would have been approved by the Department of Defense: an implacable series of concrete boxes, staunch and unadorned, stacked up against the hillside under a pale November sun. The facade was as blank as a bunker, a radical contrast to the sprawling Spanish-style homes on adjacent properties.Somewhere to the rear of the house, there must have been a driveway leading to garages and a parking pad, but I opted for the stairs built into the barren hillside. At six a.m., I’d done a three-mile jog, but I’d skipped my Friday-morning weight lifting to keep this early appointment. It was just now eight o’clock and I could feel my butt dragging as I mounted the steps.

Behind me, I could hear a dog bark. Its deep-throated yaps echoed through the canyon, conveying a message of excitement. A woman was calling, “Trudy! Truuddy!” while the dog barked on. She emitted a piercing whistle, and a young German shepherd came bounding over the hill, heading in my direction at full speed. I waited, bracing myself for the force of muddy feet, but at the last possible second, the whistle came again and the dog sprinted off. I continued climbing Fiona’s wide concrete steps, tacking twice before I reached the upper terrace with its plain limestone portico that shaded the front entrance. By then, my thighs were burning, I was huffing and puffing, and my heart was rat-a-tat-tatting like machine-gun fire. I could have sworn there was less oxygen in the air up here, but I’d actually only climbed the equivalent of two stories and I knew it was probably no more than three- to four-hundred feet above sea level. I turned, pretending to admire the view while I recovered my breath.

From this aerie, I could see the broad, shimmering band of the Pacific Ocean stitched to the shoreline some five miles away. Before me, the day was so clear, I could almost count the mountain ridges on the islands twenty-six miles out. Behind me, the clouds were peering over the mountaintops, a fast-moving blanket of dark gray in advance of a storm. San Francisco, four hundred miles to the north of us, was already feeling its lash.

By the time I rang the bell, my breathing had slowed and I’d done a quick mental review of the subject I was here to discuss. Fiona Purcell’s ex-husband, Dr. Dowan Purcell, had been missing for nine weeks. She’d had a messenger deliver a manila envelope filled with newspaper clippings that recapped events surrounding his disappearance. I’d sat in my office, tilted back in my swivel chair, my Sauconys propped on the edge of my desk while I studied the articles she’d sent. She’d arranged them chronologically but had otherwise presented them without editorial comment. I’d been following the story in the local papers, but I’d never anticipated my involve- ment in the case. I found it helpful to have the sequence laid out again in this truncated form.

I noticed that over the course of nine weeks, the character of the coverage had shifted from the first seventy-two hours of puzzlement, through days of feverish speculation, and into the holding pattern that represented the current state of the investigation. Nothing new had come to light—not that there was ever much to report. In the absence of fresh revelations, the public’s fascination had begun to dwindle and the media’s attention to the matter had become as chilly and abbreviated as the brief November days. It is a truth of human nature that we can ponder life’s mysteries for only so long before we lose interest and move on to something else.

Dr. Purcell had been gone since Friday, September 12, and the lengthy column inches initially devoted to his disappearance were now reduced to an occasional mention nearly ritual in its tone. The details were recounted, but the curiosity had shifted to more compelling events. Dr. Purcell, sixty-nine years old, had practiced family medicine in Santa Teresa since 1944, specializing in geriatrics for the last fifteen years. He’d retired in 1981. Six months later, he’d been licensed as the administrator of a nursing care facility called Pacific Meadows, which was owned by two businessmen. On the Friday night in question, he’d worked late, remaining in his office to review paperwork related to the operation of the nursing home. According to witnesses, it was close to nine o’clock when he stopped at the front desk and said good-night to the nurses on duty. At that hour, the occupants had settled down for the night. The corridors were empty and the residents’ doors were closed against the already dimmed hall lights. Dr. Purcell had paused to chat with an elderly woman sitting in the lobby in her wheelchair. After a cursory conversation, less than a minute by her report, the doctor passed through the front door and into the night. He retrieved his car from his reserved space at the north side of the complex, pulled out of the lot, and drove off into the Inky Void from which he’d never emerged. The Santa Teresa Police and the Santa Teresa County Sheriff’s Departments had devoted endless hours to the case, and I couldn’t think what avenues remained that hadn’t already been explored by local law enforcement.

I rang the bell again. Fiona Purcell had told me she was on her way out of town, a five-day trip to San Francisco to purchase furniture and antiques for a client of her interior design firm. According to the papers, Fiona and the doctor had been divorced for years. Idly, I was wondering why she’d been the one who called me instead of his current wife, Crystal.

I saw a face appear in one of the two glass panels that flanked the entrance. When she opened the door, I saw that she was already dressed for travel in a double-breasted pin-striped suit with wide lapels. She held a hand out. “Ms. Millhone? Fiona Purcell. Sorry to make you wait. I was at the back of the house. Please come in.”

“Thanks. You can call me Kinsey if you like. Nice meeting you,” I said.

We shook hands and I moved into the entrance hall. Her handshake was limp, always startling in someone who, otherwise, seems brisk and businesslike. I placed her in her late sixties, close to Dr. Purcell’s age. Her hair was dyed a dark brown, parted on one side, with puffy bangs and clusters of artificially constructed curls pulled away from her face and secured by rhinestone combs, a style affected by glamour-girl movie stars of the 1940s. I half-expected an appearance by John Agar or Fred MacMurray, some poor, feckless male who’d fallen prey to this vixen with her fierce shoulder pads. She was saying, “We can talk in the living room. You’ll have to pardon the mess.”

Scaffolding had been erected in the foyer, reaching to the lofty ceiling. Drop cloths lined the stairs and the wide corridor leading to the rear of the house. To one side of the stairs, there was a console table and a streamlined chrome lamp. Currently, we seemed to be the only two on the premises.

“Your flight’s at ten?” I asked.

“Don’t worry about it. I’m eight minutes from the airport. We have at least an hour. May I offer you coffee? I’m having mine in here.”

“No, thanks. I’ve had two cups this morning and that’s my limit most days.”

Fiona moved to the right and I followed in her wake, crossing a broad expanse of bare cement. I said, “When do the floors go in?”

“These are the floors.”

I said, “Ah,” and made a mental note to quit asking about matters far beyond my ken.

The interior of the house had the cool, faintly damp smell of plaster and fresh paint. All the walls in range were a dazzling white, the windows tall and stark, unadorned by any curtains or drapes. A sly glance behind me revealed what was probably the dining room on the far side of the entry- way, empty of furniture, subdivided by rhomboids of clear morning light. The echo of our footsteps sounded like a small parade.

In the living room, Fiona gestured toward one of two matching armchairs, chunky and oversized, upholstered in a neutral-toned fabric that blended with the gray cement floor. A large area rug showed a densely woven grid of black lines on gray. I sat when she did, watching as she surveyed the space with the practiced eye of an aesthete. The furnishings were striking: light wood, tubular steel, stark geometric shapes. An enormous round mirror, resting in a crescent of chrome, hung above the fireplace. A tall silver and ivory coffeepot, with a matching creamer and sugar bowl, sat on a silver tray on the beveled-glass coffee table. She paused to refill her cup. “Are you a fan of art deco?”

“I don’t know much about it.”

“I’ve been collecting for years. The rug’s a Da Silva Bruhns. This is Wolfgang Tumpel’s work, if you’re familiar with the name,” she said, nodding at the coffee service.

“Beautiful,” I murmured, clueless.

Copyright 2002 by Sue Grafton


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Meet the Author

Sue Grafton began the alphabet series in 1982 and is aiming to complete it by 2015–give or take a decade. She spends part of the year in Louisville, Kentucky, and the rest in Montecito, California.

Judy Kaye has appeared on Broadway in Oh, Brother!, Grease, and On the Twentieth Century, and won the Tony Award for her performance in The Phantom of the Opera. She also created the role of Emma Goldman in Ragtime.

Brief Biography

Montecito, California and Louisville, Kentucky
Date of Birth:
April 24, 1940
Place of Birth:
Louisville, Kentucky
B.A. in English, University of Louisville, 1961

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P Is for Peril 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 115 reviews.
poodlemomOK More than 1 year ago
When I read the ebook, I thought the end of the book was missing. I had to borrow the audio book from the library to realize that is the way it ended. It made a little more sense to me when I listened to it. Like other reviewers, I really missed the epilogue.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Looks like I'm not the only one who wished for a better wrap-up. I actually thought I was missing a page or two. Who is the real killer/accomplice ? Makes me want to just use the library system when seeking out books with less than 4 stars.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was very disappointing. There was no ending. I kept looking for closure. I read from A to P and afraid to go on to the next book, but I read Q and just finished R . The rest of the series was great. I hope S has an ending to it. Do not understand why there is no ending to P is for Peril. What happened sure would like to know.
mayasmommy More than 1 year ago
What ending???????? Thought part of the book didnt download. Weird....
kbecker More than 1 year ago
I've read all the Sue Grafton novels and am disappointed with the lack of closure for 'P'. I thought the publisher ommitted the customary epilogoue on the e-book edition! I actually went B-N to check out the paperback! All in all, if you like Sue Grafton you'll certainly want to read it but it won't leave you feeling fulfilled!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Nook version of this book had misspellings, typos and poor spacing (words ran together, some paragraphs not indented, page breaks wrong) I was very disappointed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was certainly strange if you've read the others from the Sue Grafton alphabet series. Kinsey, her quirks, humor, usual characters - all this is there (and so the 2 stars), but where's the plot? Things seem to just drift along with nothing much happening and the ending makes you feel your copy is missing a few pages. Also doesn't help that Kinsey seems to be wrong about everything and everybody.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Just as Claudia said...I couldn't understand the ending. All those insignificant details along the book and finally we don't know who the murderer is?? I kept reading the last pages, but I still don't know what happened. Was it Crystal, Anica, Leila?? Please, somebody tell me.
Bookworm1951 More than 1 year ago
Like many other reviewers, I found the ending very lacking and abrupt. I, too, thought that pages were missing until I double checked with another book. I have read all of Sue Grafton's alphabet mysteries starting with A through P and this is the only one that I didn't like. It just left too many questions unanswered. Her other books have an epilogue which wraps things up nicely. This one did not. While all her books have the main plot and a subplot, P is for Peril seemed to be all over the place with too many characters and sidebars. I'm sad to say that I was really disappointed in this one as I have always loved Sue Grafton's work.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought i got gypped out of the ending. I think next time I'll save my money and get it from the library. It deserves more than one star but there were so many bogus 5 star ratings, I thought I'd balance it out.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had to reread the ending because I did not catch who did it. When I did I was still a little lost. I did understand who did it and maybe why, but it was so suttle. It just did not seem finished. There was a few action scenes, but not sure how it tied into the original murder it was like there was two stories through the whole book. It was not horrible but not my favorite.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I, too, found the ending to be unsettling. When I finished the book, I thought somebody ripped out the last few pages. I also agree that there was to much deatil in certain areas.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was one of the most scattered books I have read in my life. Too many uninteresting details, and the story goes off in too many directions that didn't grab my attention. So boring! I found myself daydreaming throughout the book about what a miracle it would be to actually finish this one and begin one that I could really enjoy. This book was a struggler.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Perhaps like most folks, I need to stretch my budget, and there are few authors whose latest work I buy unblinkingly in hard cover the minute it comes out. Until this tome, Sue Grafton had been one. Others, below, have said it better. Where is the last chapter? Why does the ending make no sense? How can this be written by the same author who created such magic earlier in the series? I see that a Q book is out now. I will wait for the paperback, thank you very much!
Guest More than 1 year ago
a pretty tough read... slow to pick up in term of the plot's pace and when you have made it through, you may be as clueless (in some respects) as you were at the beginning. certainly not what was expected after reading the other books in the series... feel free to skip this entry, you'll miss nothing.
Anonymous 5 days ago
Where was the ending ??? I'm soon disappointed . Waste of my money. Spent all that time reading and did I get dumb not getting the ending??
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Greatly satisfying, as always.
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Many of the characters in this book will probably frustrate the reader as much as they frustrate Kinsey,but the somewhat surprising ending works as Grafton keeps you guessing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago