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U Is for Undertow (Kinsey Millhone Series #21)

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Overview

Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. Even more so when Kinsey Millhone's only lead is a grown man dredging up a repressed childhood memory-of something that may never have happened...

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U is for Undertow

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Overview

Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. Even more so when Kinsey Millhone's only lead is a grown man dredging up a repressed childhood memory-of something that may never have happened...

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  • Tagged! Interview: Sue Grafton
    Tagged! Interview: Sue Grafton  

What People Are Saying

From the Publisher
"Makes me wish there were more than 26 letters at her disposal."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780399155970
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 12/1/2009
  • Series: Kinsey Millhone Series , #21
  • Pages: 403
  • Sales rank: 226,028
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Sue Grafton lives in Montecito, California, and Louisville, Kentucky. Most recently, she was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America.

Biography

Sue Grafton is published in 28 countries and 26 languages -- including Estonian, Bulgarian, and Indonesian. She's an international bestseller with a readership in the millions. She's a writer who believes in the form that she has chosen to mine: "The mystery novel offers a world in which justice is served. Maybe not in a court of law," she has said, "but people do get their just desserts." And like Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald, Robert Parker and the John D. MacDonald—the best of her breed—she has earned new respect for that form. Her readers appreciate her buoyant style, her eye for detail, her deft hand with character, her acute social observances, and her abundant storytelling talents.

But who is the real Sue Grafton? Many of her readers think she is simply a version of her character and alter ego Kinsey Millhone. Here are Kinsey's own words in the early pages of N Is for Noose:

"So there I was barreling down the highway in search of employment and not at all fussy about what kind of work I'd take. I wanted distraction. I wanted some money, escape, anything to keep my mind off the subject of Robert Deitz. I'm not good at good-byes. I've suffered way too many in my day and I don't like the sensation. On the other hand, I'm not that good at relationships. Get close to someone and the next thing you know, you've given them the power to wound, betray, irritate, abandon you, or bore you senseless. My general policy is to keep my distance, thus avoiding a lot of unruly emotion. In psychiatric circles, there are names for people like me."

Those are sentiments that hit home for Grafton's readers. And she has said that Kinsey is herself, only younger, smarter, and thinner. But are they an apt description of Kinsey's creator? Well, she's been married to Steve Humphrey for more than twenty years. She has three kids and two grandkids. She loves cats, gardens, and good cuisine—not quite the nature-hating, fast-food loving Millhone. So: readers and reviewers beware. Never assume the author is the character in the book. Sue, who has a home in Montecito, California ("Santa Theresa") and another in Louisville, the city in which she was born and raised, is only in her imagination Kinsey Millhone -- but what a splendid imagination it is.

Biography from author website

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

Read an Excerpt

Wednesday afternoon, April 6, 1988

What fascinates me about life is that now and then the past rises up and declares itself. Afterward, the sequence of events seems inevitable, but only because cause and effect have been aligned in advance. It's like a pattern of dominoes arranged upright on a tabletop. With the flick of your finger, the first tile topples into the second, which in turn tips into the third, setting in motion a tumbling that goes on and on, each tile knocking over its neighbor until all of them fall down. Sometimes the impetus is pure chance, though I discount the notion of accidents. Fate stitches together elements that seem unrelated on the surface. It's only when the truth emerges you see how the bones are joined and everything connects.

Here's the odd part. In my ten years as a private eye, this was the first case I ever managed to resolve without crossing paths with the bad guys. Except at the end, of course.

My name is Kinsey Millhone. I'm a private detective, female, age thirty-seven, with my thirty-eighth birthday coming up in a month. Having been married and divorced twice, I'm now happily single and expect to remain so for life. I have no children thus far and I don't anticipate bearing any. Not only are my eggs getting old, but my biological clock wound down a long time ago. I suppose there's always room for one of life's little surprises, but that's not the way to bet.

I work solo out of a rented bungalow in Santa Teresa, California, a town of roughly 85,000 souls who generate sufficient crime to occupy the Santa Teresa Police Department, the County Sheriff's Department, the California Highway Patrol, and the twenty-five or so local private investigators like me. Movies and television shows would have you believe a PI's job is dangerous, but nothing could be farther from the truth …; except, of course, on the rare occasions when someone tries to kill me. Then I'm ever so happy my health insurance premiums are paid up. Threat of death aside, the job is largely research, requiring intuition, tenacity, and ingenuity. Most of my clients reach me by referral and their business ranges from background checks to process serving, with countless other matters in between. My office is off the beaten path and I seldom have a client appear unannounced, so when I heard a tapping at the door to my outer office, I got up and peered around the corner to see who it was.

Through the glass I saw a young man pointing at the knob. I'd apparently turned the dead bolt to the locked position when I'd come back from lunch. I let him in, saying, "Sorry about that. I must have locked up after myself without being aware of it."

"You're Ms. Millhone?"

"Yes."

"Michael Sutton," he said, extending his hand. "Do you have time to talk?"

We shook hands. "Sure. Can I offer you a cup of coffee?"

"No, thanks. I'm fine."

I ushered him into my office while I registered his appearance in a series of quick takes. Slim. Lank brown hair with a sheen to it, worn long on top and cut short over his ears. Solemn brown eyes, complexion as clear as a baby's. There was a prep school air about him: deck shoes without socks, sharply creased chinos, and a short-sleeve white dress shirt he wore with a tie. He had the body of a boy: narrow shoulders, narrow hips, and long, smooth arms. He looked young enough to be carded if he tried to buy booze. I couldn't imagine what sort of problem he'd have that would require my services.

I returned to my swivel chair and he settled in the chair on the other side of the desk. I glanced at my calendar, wondering if I'd set up an appointment and promptly forgotten it.

He noticed the visual reference and said, "Detective Phillips at the police department gave me your name and address. I should have called first, but your office was close by. I hope this isn't an inconvenience."

"Not at all," I said. "My first name's Kinsey, which you're welcome to use. You prefer Michael or Mike?"

"Most people call me Sutton. In my kindergarten class, there were two other Michaels so the teacher used our last names to distinguish us. Boorman, Sutton, and Trautwein—like a law firm. We're still friends."

"Where was this?"

"Climp."

I said, "Ah." I should have guessed as much. Climping Academy is the private school in Horton Ravine, K through 12. Tuition starts at twelve grand for the little tykes and rises incrementally through the upper grades. I don't know where it tops out, but you could probably pick up a respectable college education for the same price. All the students enrolled there referred to it as "Climp," as though the proper appellation was just, like, sooo beside the point. Watching him, I wondered if my blue-collar roots were as obvious to him as his upper-class status was to me.

We exchanged pleasantries while I waited for him to unload. The advantage of a prearranged appointment is that I begin the first meeting with at least some idea what a prospective client has in mind. People skittish about revealing their personal problems to a stranger often find it easier to do by phone. With this kid, I figured we'd have to dance around some before he got down to his business, whatever it was.

He asked how long I'd been a private investigator. This is a question I'm sometimes asked at cocktail parties (on the rare occasion when I'm invited to one). It's the sort of blah-blah-blah conversational gambit I don't much care for. I gave him a rundown of my employment history. I skipped over the two lackluster semesters at the local junior college and started with my graduation from the police academy. I then covered the two years I'd worked for the Santa Teresa PD before I realized how ill suited I was to a life in uniform. I proceeded with a brief account of my subsequent apprenticeship with a local agency, run by Ben Byrd and Morley Shine, two private investigators, who'd trained me in preparation for licensing. I'd had my ups and downs over the years, but I spared him the details since he'd only inquired as a stalling technique. "What about you? Are you a California native?"

"Yes, ma'am. I grew up in Horton Ravine. My family lived on Via Ynez until I went off to college. I lived a couple of other places, but now I'm back."

"You still have family here?"

His hesitation was one of those nearly imperceptible blips that indicates internal editing. "My parents are gone. I have two older brothers, both married with two kids each, and an older sister who's divorced. We're not on good terms. We haven't been for years."

I let that pass without comment, being better acquainted with family estrangement than I cared to admit. "How do you know Cheney Phillips?"

"I don't. I went into the police department, asking to speak to a detective, and he happened to be free. When I told him my situation, he said you might be able to help."

"Well, let's hope so," I said. "Cheney's a good guy. I've known him for years." I shut my mouth then and let a silence descend, a stratagem with remarkable powers to make the other guy talk.

Sutton touched the knot in his tie. "I know you're busy, so I'll get to the point. I hope you'll bear with me. The story might sound weird."

"Weird stories are the best kind, so fire away," I said.

He looked at the floor as he spoke, making eye contact now and then to see if I was following. "I don't know if you saw this, but a couple of weeks ago, there was an article in the newspaper about famous kidnappings: Marion Parker, the twelve-year-old girl who was abducted in 1927; the Lindbergh baby in 'thirty-two; another kid, named Etan Patz. Ordinarily, I don't read things like that, but what caught my attention was the case here in town…; "

"You're talking about Mary Claire Fitzhugh—1967."

"You remember her?"

"Sure. I'd just graduated from high school. Little four-year-old girl taken from her parents' home in Horton Ravine. The Fitzhughs agreed to pay the ransom, but the money was never picked up and the child was never seen again."

"Exactly. The thing is, when I saw the name Mary Claire Fitzhugh, I had this flash—something I hadn't thought about for years." He clasped his hands together and squeezed them between his knees. "When I was a little kid, I was playing in the woods and I came across these two guys digging a hole. I remember seeing a bundle on the ground a few feet away. At the time, I didn't understand what I was looking at, but now I believe it was Mary Claire's body and they were burying her."

I said, "You actually saw the child?"

He shook his head. "She was wrapped in a blanket, so I couldn't see her face or anything else."

I studied him with interest. "What makes you think it was Mary Claire? That's a big leap."

"Because I went back and checked the old newspaper accounts and the dates line up."

"What dates?"

"Oh, sorry. I should have mentioned this before. She was kidnapped on July 19, which was a Wednesday. I saw the guys on Friday, July 21, 1967 …; my birthday, the year I turned six. That's how I made the association. I think she was already dead by then and they were getting rid of the body."

"And this was where?"

"Horton Ravine. I don't know the exact location. My mother had errands to run that day so she dropped me off at some kid's house. I don't remember his name. I guess his mom had agreed to look after me while she was gone. Turns out the other kid woke up with a fever and sore throat. Chicken pox was going around and his mom didn't want me exposed in case that's what it was, so she made him stay in his room while I hung around downstairs. I got bored and asked if I could go outside. She said I could as long as I didn't leave the property. I remember finding this tree with branches that hung down to make a little room, so I played there for a while, pretending I was a bandit in a cool hideout. I heard voices and when I peeped through the leaves, I saw the two guys walk by with shovels and stuff and I followed them."

"What time of day?"

"Must have been late morning because after I came in again, the kid's mother fed me lunch—a plain lettuce and tomato sandwich, no bacon, and it was made with Miracle Whip. Our family didn't eat Miracle Whip. My mother wouldn't have it in the house. She said it was disgusting compared to real homemade mayonnaise."

"Your mother made mayonnaise?"

"The cook did."

"Ah."

"Anyway, Mom always said it was rude to complain, so I ate what I could and left the rest on my plate. The kid's mom hadn't even cut the crusts off the bread."

"There's a shock," I said. "I'm impressed your memory's so clear."

"Not clear enough or I wouldn't be here. I'm pretty sure the two guys I saw were the ones who abducted Mary Claire, but I have no idea where I was. I know I'd never been to the house before and I never went there again."

"Any chance one of your siblings would remember who the kid was?"

"I guess it's possible. Unfortunately, we don't get along. We haven't spoken in years."

"So you said."

"Sorry. I don't mean to repeat myself. The point is, I can't call them up out of a clear blue sky. Even if I did, I doubt they'd talk to me."

"But I could ask, couldn't I? That would be the obvious first move if you're serious about this."

He shook his head. "I don't want them involved, especially my sister, Dee. She's difficult. You don't want to mess with her."

"All right. We'll scratch that for now. Maybe the kid's mother was being paid to babysit."

"That wasn't my impression. More like she was doing Mom a favor."

"What about your classmates? Maybe she left you with one of the other moms, like a playdate."

Sutton blinked twice. "That's a possibility I hadn't thought of. I've kept in touch with the other two Michaels, Boorman and Trautwein, but that's the extent of it. I didn't like anybody else in my kindergarten class and they didn't like me."

"It doesn't matter if you liked them or not. We're trying to identify the boy."

"I don't remember anyone else."

"It should be easy enough to come up with a list. You must have had class photos. You could go back to the school library and check the '67 yearbook."

"I don't want to go back to Climp. I hate the idea."

"It's just a suggestion. So far, we're brainstorming," I said. "Tell me about the two guys. How old would you say?"

"I'm not sure. Older than my brothers, who were ten and twelve at the time, but not as old as my dad."

"Did they see you?"

"Not then. I decided to spy on them, but where they ended up was too far away and I couldn't see what they were doing. I sneaked up on them, crawling through the bushes and crouching behind a big oak. It was hot and they were sweating so they'd taken off their shirts. I guess I wasn't as quiet as I thought because one of them spotted me and they both jumped. They stopped what they were doing and asked what I wanted."

"You actually talked to them?"

"Oh, sure. Absolutely. We had this whole conversation. I thought they were pirates and I was all excited about meeting them."

"Pirates?"

"My mother was reading me Peter Pan at bedtime, and I loved the illustrations. The pirates wore bandanas tied around their heads, which is what the two guys had done."

"Beards? Earrings? Eye patches?"

That netted me a smile, but not much of one. He shook his head. "It was the bandanas that reminded me of pirates. I told them I knew that because of Peter Pan."

"What'd you talk about?"

"First, I asked 'em if they were pirates for real and they told me they were. The one guy talked more than the other and when I asked what they were doing, he said they were digging for buried treasure…; "

As Sutton spoke, I could see him regressing to the little boy he'd been, earnest and easily impressed. He leaned forward in his chair. "I asked if the treasure was gold doubloons, but they said they didn't know because they hadn't found it yet. I asked to see the treasure map and they said they couldn't show me because they were sworn to secrecy. I'd seen the bundle on the ground, over by this tree, and when I asked about it, the first guy said it was a bedroll in case they got tired. I offered to help dig, but he told me the job was only for grownups and little kids weren't allowed. And then the other one spoke up and asked where I lived. I told them I lived in a white house, but not on this street, that I was visiting. The first guy asked what my name was. I told him and the other one spoke up again and said he thought he heard someone calling me so I better go, which is what I did. The whole exchange couldn't have taken more than three minutes."

"I don't suppose either of them mentioned their names?"

"No. I probably should have asked, but it didn't occur to me."

"Your recall impresses me. Much of my life at that age is a total blank."

"I hadn't thought about the incident for years, but once the memory was triggered, I was right there again. Just like, boom."

I reran the story in my mind, trying to digest the whole of it. "Tell me again why you think there's a connection to Mary Claire. That still seems like a stretch."

"I don't know what else to say. Intuition, I guess."

"What about the kidnapping. How did that go down? I remember the broad strokes, but not the particulars."

"The whole thing was horrible. Those poor people. The ransom note said not to contact the police or the FBI, but Mr. Fitzhugh did it anyway. He thought it was the only way to save her, but he was wrong."

"The first contact was the note?"

Sutton nodded. "Later they phoned and said he had one day to get the money together or else. Mr. Fitzhugh had already called the police and they were the ones who contacted the FBI. The special agent in charge convinced him they'd have a better chance of nabbing the guys if he and his wife appeared to cooperate, so they advised him to do as he was told…; "

"Twenty-five thousand dollars, wasn't it? Somehow the number sticks in my head."

"Exactly. The kidnappers wanted it in small bills, packed in a gym bag. They called again and told him where he was supposed to leave the money. He stalled. They must have thought there was a trap on the line because they cut the call short."

"So he dropped off the ransom money and the kidnappers didn't show."

"Right. After a day passed, it was clear the FBI had bungled it. They still thought they had a chance, but Mr. Fitzhugh said to hell with them and took matters into his own hands. He notified the newspapers and the radio and TV stations. After the story broke, Mary Claire was all anybody talked about—my parents and everyone else."

"What day was it by then?"

"Sunday. Like I said before, she was kidnapped on Wednesday and I saw them on Friday. The paper didn't carry the story until Sunday."

"Why didn't you speak up?"

"I did. I'd already done that. When my mother came to get me, I told her about the pirates. I felt guilty. Like I'd done something wrong."

"How so?"

"I don't know how to pin it down. I believed what they said about digging for treasure. When you're six, things like that make perfect sense, but on some level I was anxious and I wanted reassurance. Instead, Mom got mad. She said I wasn't supposed to talk to strangers and she made me promise I'd never do it again. When we got home, she sent me straight to my room. On Sunday we heard the news about Mary Claire."

"And your mother didn't see the relevance?"

"I guess not. She never mentioned it and I was too scared to bring it up again. She'd already punished me once. I kept my mouth shut so she wouldn't punish me again."

"But it worried you."

"For a while, sure. After that, I put the incident out of my mind. Then I saw Mary Claire's name and it all came back."

"Did you ever see either guy again?"

"I don't think so. Maybe one of them. I'm not sure."

"And where would that have been?"

"I don't remember. I might have made a mistake."

I picked up a pencil and made a mark on the yellow pad lying on my desk. "When you explained this to Cheney, what was his response?"

His shoulder went up in a half-shrug. "He said he'd check the old case notes, but he couldn't do much more because the information I'd given him was too vague. That's when he mentioned you."

"Sounds like he was passing the buck."

"Actually, what he said was you were like a little terrier when it came to flushing out rats."

"Sucking up," I said. Mentally, I was rolling my eyes because Cheney wasn't far off the mark. I liked picking at problems and this was a doozy. "What about the house itself? Think you'd recognize it if you saw it again?"

"I doubt it. Right after I read the article, I drove around the old neighborhood, and even the areas I knew well had changed. Trees were gone, shrubs were overgrown, new houses had gone up. Of course, I didn't cover the whole of Horton Ravine, but I'm not sure it would have made any difference since I don't have a clear image. I think I'd recognize the place in the woods. The house is a blur."

"So twenty-one years later, you're clueless and hoping I can figure out where you were."

"Yes, ma'am."

"You want me to find an unmarked grave, basically a hole."

"Can you do it?"

"I don't know. I've never tried before."

I studied him, chasing the idea around to see where it might go. "It's an interesting proposition. I'll give you that."

I rocked in my swivel chair, listening to the squeak, while I sifted through the story, wondering what I'd missed. There was something more going on, but I couldn't imagine what. Finally, I said, "What's your stake in the situation? I know it bothers you, but why to this extent?"

"I don't know. I mean, the article talked about how the kidnapping ruined Mrs. Fitzhugh's life. She and her husband divorced and he ended up leaving town. She still has no idea what happened to her little girl. She doesn't even know for sure she's dead. If I can help, it seems like the right thing to do."

"It's going to cost you," I said.

"I figured as much."

"What sort of work do you do?"

"Nothing right now. I lost my job so I'm on unemployment."

"What was the job?"

"I sold advertising for KSPL."

KSPL was the local AM station I sometimes tuned in on my car radio when I was tooling around town. "How long were you there?"

"About a year, maybe a little less."

"What's it mean when you say you 'lost' your job? Were you laid off, downsized, fired, what?"

He hesitated. "The last one."

"Fired."

He nodded.

I waited and when it was clear he had no intention of continuing, I gave him a nudge. "Uh, Sutton, I'd consider it a courtesy if you'd be a bit more forthcoming. Would you care to fill me in?"

He rubbed his palms on his pants. "I said I had a BA from Stanford, but it wasn't really true. I was enrolled and attended classes for a couple of years, but I didn't graduate."

"So you lied on the application?"

"Look, I know I made a mistake…; "

"That would cover it," I said.

"But I can't do anything about it now. What's done is done and I just have to move on."

I'd heard a host of criminals make the same remark, like boosting cars, robbing banks, and killing folks could be brushed aside, a minor stumble on the path of life. "Have you given any thought to how you're going to pay me out of your unemployment benefits? We're talking about five hundred bucks a day, plus expenses. Assuming I agree to help, which I haven't."

"I have some money set aside. I thought I'd write a check for one day's work and we'd see how it goes from there."

"A check?"

A flush tinted his cheeks. "I guess that's not such a hot idea."

"You got that right. What's plan B?"

"If you're going to be here for a while, I could make a quick run to the bank and bring you cash."

I considered the notion. The prime item on my Thursday To Do list was to make a bank deposit and pay bills. I had two reports to write and a few calls to make, but I could shift those to Friday. The job itself might end in folly, but at least when he mentioned "the right thing to do," he didn't turn around and ask me to work for free. I wasn't convinced he was right about what he'd seen, but Cheney must have considered the story credible or he wouldn't have sent him over to me.

"Okay. One day, but that's it. And only if you pay me cash in advance. I'll be here until five o'clock. That should give you plenty of time."

"Great. That's great."

"I don't know how great it is, but it's the best I can do. When you get back, if I happen to be out, you can stick the money through the mail slot. In the meantime, give me a contact number so I'll know how to reach you."

I handed him my yellow pad and watched while he scribbled down his address and telephone number. In return I handed him my business card with my office number and address.

He said, "I really appreciate this. I don't know what I'd have done if you hadn't agreed."

"I'll probably regret it, but what the hell? It's only one day," I said. If I'd been listening closely, I'd have caught the sound of the gods having a great big old tee-hee at my expense.

I said, "You're sure you don't want to make the trip up to Climp? It would save you a few bucks."

"I don't want to. They probably wouldn't talk to me in any event."

"I see." I studied him. "You want to tell me what's going on here? You can't talk to your siblings and now you can't talk to your prep school pals?"

"I already told you I didn't have pals. It has more to do with the administration."

"How come?"

"There were some difficulties. I had a problem."

"Like what, you were expelled?" I love stories about flunking and expulsions. With my history of screwups, those are like fairy tales.

"It's not something I want to get into. It has nothing to do with this." A stubborn note had crept into his voice. "You go up there. They'll let you see yearbooks as easily as me."

"I doubt it. Educational institutions hate handing over information about their students. Especially with the words ‘private investigator' thrown into the mix."

"Don't tell 'em you're a PI. Think of something else."

"I didn't even attend Climping Academy so why would I want to see a yearbook? It makes no sense."

He shook his head. "I won't do it. I have my reasons."

"Which you're not about to share."

"Right."

"Okay, fine. It's no skin off my nose. If that's how you want to spend your five hundred bucks, I can live with it. I love driving through Horton Ravine."

I got up, and as we shook hands again, I realized what was bothering me. "One more question."

"What's that?"

"The article came out two weeks ago. Why'd you wait so long before you went to the police?"

He hesitated. "I was nervous. All I have is a hunch. I didn't want the police to write me off as a crank."

"Nuh-uh. That's not all of it. What else?"

He was silent for a moment, color rising in his cheeks again. "What if the guys find out I remembered them? I might have been the only witness and I told them my name. If they're the ones who killed Mary Claire, why wouldn't they kill me?"

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 624 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 10, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    U is for Undertow is one of Sue's Best!!

    U is for Undertow is Sue Grafton's 21st adventure starring the unsinkable Kinsey Millhone and it's one of her best. In this chapter of Kinsey's life and career she's faced with a 21year old unsolved crime that seems to lead to nothing but dead ends. And she's facing a family reunion with her long estranged family.
    Sue Grafton is an amazing storyteller and mystery writer and it definitely shows in this dramatic and nail biting page-turner. She keeps us up to date on all our favorite returning characters and introduces us to a supporting cast of many, some of which are solid citizens but many who are not and all are eclectic in their relationship to each other. Her dialogue in unmistakably hers, but in this volume it just flows better than I've seen for a while. Her story line/plot is as always interesting and exciting and I like how she incorporates past events with what's happening now. And now just happens to be 1988. I sometimes have a hard time reading contemporary fiction that's set in the near past, without today's technology it seems somehow jaded, but I have no problems of that sort with this series. In fact what it does is make me scratch my head and wonder what we did before cell phones and high speed internet access. The mystery is quite a puzzle and who better to solve it than our own Kinsey Millhone with her unique and always moral attitude toward crime and her profession. And in this episode she seems much more content with herself then in some of the previous reads.
    You cannot go wrong with this novel, it's all that you remember about Kinsey and better. If you enjoy a great mystery especially with a strong woman heroine who knows what she wants and who she is then you'll love this book. If you just love a great who done it then look no farther. If you're a lover of crime or PI fiction this fills the bill. I guarantee this will satisfy any lover of mystery or just great fiction. If this is your first foray into the series it does fine as a stand-a-lone, but you'd be missing out on a great deal of information and finding out what makes Kinsey tick. My suggestion is after you finish reading this, go back and start with A is for Alibi.

    14 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 17, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    his is a terrific Millhone investigative tale

    In 1988 private investigator Kinsey Millhone reluctantly agrees to look into the claims of Michael Sutton. He insists he has regained a suppressed childhood memory of observing several men bury a package soon after four-year-old Mary Claire Fitzhugh vanished without a trace in 1972. She agrees to work the case one day at a time with her reevaluating at the end of each day whether the request is legitimate for her to continue searching for who killed Mary Claire Fitzhugh.

    Millhone learns her her newest client is unreliable as he has told fabrications often times before and was only six years old at the time of the incident he claims to have witnessed. Still she accepts he believes what he said is true so she must connect the dots of his rambling convoluted account and look at the scene where he claims the corpse is buried.

    This is a terrific Millhone investigative tale that brings alive the end of the Reagan Era while also providing a historiographical look at the Nixon period. The story line deftly rotates perspectives enhancing what the readers know that the sleuth has yet to learn. With Millhone at her best and the support cast tremendous, fans will relish U is for undeniably super.

    Harriet Klausner

    11 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2009

    Not Her Best Work

    I agree that this isn't Sue's best work. I too missed the Kinsey of earlier books and really struggled to complete this one.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 10, 2011

    Ebook

    I downloaded this book from the library ebooks. Get a ebook library card and download ebooks into your nook for free

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2009

    Different!

    I have been a fan of Sue Grafton for years and have read all of the Kinsey Millhone series to date. This book was unusual in its format, and my feelings were mixed. The "good" was that I enjoyed the focus on the array of characters, with each section dealing with a particular one--most were interesting and intriguing. The "bad" was that I missed Kinsey herself, whom I've come to think of as a real person. She was relegated to the role of minor character or, at best, part of an ensemble. And she seemed older, more staid and businesslike. I missed the edgier and sexier Kinsey. While I realize Ms. Grafton might be a tad bored with the series by this time, I hope she'll resurrect the Kinsey of yore in her next book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2014

    U is for undertow

    This was not my favorite Kinsey mystery, but still written really well. There was a part on the background of Kinsey's Aunt Gin which furthered the Kinsey history and the bad guys were not as fierce. There was one character Grafton wanted you to hate who was very vulger. Other then that the mystery fell into place by the criminals own guilt.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2013

    Well-crafted tale

    I have read all of the alphabet mysteries (up to U) and think that Ms. Grafton is getting better and better. There were some in the middle of the alphabet that I thought were a bit contrived. I especially like how she wove all the characters into a complicated story this time. I would recommend "U" to mystery lovers.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 10, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Always enjoy Grafton

    Sue Grafton continues to keep me entertained with her writings. I've never been disapointed.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 8, 2010

    Really Enjoyed It

    I've only read one or two in the 'alphabet' series and that was a while ago. That said, I had no trouble following the character or the story. The only problem I had was letting other things slide because I couldn't put this book down. I liked the way author told the story. The main character, the detective, tells her story in the first person. The 'flashbacks,' if you can call them that, are told by other characters in the third person. It sounds crazy but it works. The past comes alive, every character plays his part and the reader becomes the detective, collecting all these stories and trying to make them fit. The plot is complex but every plate that went up in the air came down safely. There were no loose ends, no unanswered questions and you still got a surprise on almost every page. I just loved it!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 8, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Never a let down

    Every time I read one of Sue Grafton's books I leave off feeling good. This book is funny and relatable. Even though there are very bad people committing murder and mayhem in this book; you also have very funny moments of laugh-out-loud humor. I didn't think this book as interesting as her book S is for Silence which had a similar theme of retrospective seen through different characters eyes, but I did like it. I think the writing is simple and quick and Kinsey Milhone is a very likable main character.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 13, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Recomended for Grafton fans, but not the best Kinsey Millhone book to date...

    One of the most awful things about falling in love with a series author is that once you read all the existing one's you have to wait for them to write another! That's been the case for Sue Grafton and her alphabet series. And here we are at "U", the 21st Kinsey Millhone mystery.

    I do have to lament though, that of all, "U" is just not up to the standard set by the preceding 20 books. It's good, don't get me wrong, but the level of excitement and intrigue just never build the way they have before. The case is only moderately interesting, lacking build and impact, and the climax left me wanting. Another issue I had difficulty with is something I am seeing more and more from various writers, with varying levels of success. That is, switching back and forth between telling the story in first person and then going to a third person telling to reveal what the main character could not know from their own point of view.

    I do see that this particular story needs the back-story in order to let the reader understand it, but the ever expanding cast of characters left me confused and needing a road map. Add to that the fact that much of the back tale takes place 20+ years in the past, and it just left me spinning trying to keep up.

    I suppose that, had the story been more engrossing, or the history been learned through Kinsey's detective work, I would have been able to overlook, or even embrace the style. In the end though, I did like the story, but felt a little let down.

    In Grafton's defense though, she has written 20 outstanding Kinsey Millhone novels over more than two decades. I really do appreciate the loyalty she has shown to her characters and their lives. "U" takes place in 1988, because the stories do follow closely one after the other. Kinsey has aged only a few years, despite the passing of time for us in reader land. As a result, Grafton must tell the stories without the gadgets and trinkets that life in 2010 requires for mere existence. There are no cell phones, personal computers, internet, DVR's, caller ID, etc. She never wavers from the fact that they aren't yet invented; I dare you to try imagining such a day to day world, let alone writing detailed novels about that time.

    I do recommend U is for Undertow to Grafton fans, but caution that the preceding books are better. If you've never read Sue Grafton, the only way to do it is to start with "A" and enjoy watching her world unfold.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 30, 2010

    What would I do without Sue Grafton and Kinsey Milhone?

    I'll admit it - I'm addicted to Sue Grafton. Her books have taken me away from daily life for many years. I've read all of her books at least 3 times and I look forward to each new publication. I've tried to find a character I like as well as Kinsey Milhone, and it's impossible. I'm not sure what I'll do when the alphabet series stops - maybe just reread them all again!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 23, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Not Her Best

    I was disappointed in this one. Ms. Grafton didn't really build any suspense. The plot just trickled along and I didn't really like any of the characters. Nothing much in this one. Is she running out of plot lines?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 23, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Losing the Spark

    I love the Kinsey Milhone series, but the stories seem to be losing their spark lately. As usual, the main character is always adorable and interesting with all of her flaws and quirks. The author also has a knack for creating a host of fascinating and believable supporting characters that come together for an interesting story. This one seems to move extremely slowly though, similar to the last two or three in the series. There is way too much backstory and flashback. It is best to read fast and skip all of that. You will still enjoy the plot and won't miss a thing. Those who like a good P.I. story may enjoy the earlier ones in the series much better. They are more exciting.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 23, 2010

    I thoughy the characters were god.

    The plot was okay I Like, Mary Higgins Clark and James Patterson books better.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 8, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Good, with reservations

    I also have followed the series and enjoy the writing and the personality of Kinsey Millhone. This story was worth reading, but I agree with some revieweres that the ending was somewhat unsatisfactory. That being said, it was a good read during our cold wnter weather.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 4, 2010

    Enjoyable but want more excitement

    I have read all of the books in the series and it was fun to continue to round out Kinsey's past in this one. I like how Sue Grafton wound the plot of the book, family relationships and how they affect your choices throughout your life, along with Kinsey's own twisted family history. The one thing I would like to see is a bit more of a nail biting ending - the endings used to keep you in suspense but now it's just a way to wrap up loose ends and move on to the next letter. However, I still have to say that if you like the series, you will enjoy this one.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2010

    Details, Details....

    The book was a good read, but when I'm reading a book by an author where the story supposedly takes place in the 80's, it just really bugs me when there are references made to things that were not even in place in the 80's. The best example is the references to the CA sex offender registry, which wasn't even in place until the late 90's.

    I know this is nitpicky & I can see how it would be an easy mistake to make, because the books are set in a time period 20 years in the past and we've come a long way since then, but it's just annoying....I say either get every 80's fact straight or move the storyline to a more current time period.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 28, 2009

    Disappointing

    I have read every book Sue Grafton has written and thoroughly enjoyed all of them. I am still struggling to get through this book. It is slow and cumbersome and not up to Grafton's usual ability to catch one's interest and keep you captivated. Perhaps she is trying a new writting style?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2014

    I have read all of this series and really enjoyed it, until she

    I have read all of this series and really enjoyed it, until she changed to a split story line. It is very difficult to follow and keep up with.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 624 Customer Reviews

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