The next in the Kinsey Millhone Alphabet mystery series from bestselling author Sue Grafton.
"J" is for Jaffe: Wendell Jaffe, dead these past five years. Or so it seemed until his former insurance agent spotted him in the bar of a dusty little resort halfway between Cabo San Lucas and La Paz.
"In truth, the facts about Wendell Jaffe had nothing to do with my family history, but murder is seldom tidy and no one ever said revelations operate in a straight line. It was my investigation into the dead man's past that triggered the inquiry into my own, and in the end the two stories became difficult to separate."
Five years ago, when Jaffe's thirty-five-foot Fuji ketch was found drifting off the Baja coast, it seemed a sure thing he'd gone overboard. The note he left behind admitted he was flat broke, his business bankrupt, his real estate gambit nothing but a huge Ponzi scheme about to collapse, with criminal indictment certain to follow. When the authorities soon after descended on his banks and his books, there was nothing left: Jaffe had stripped the lot.
"Given my insatiable curiosity and my natural inclination to poke my nose in where it doesn't belong, it was odd to realize how little attention I'd paid to my own past. I'd simply accepted what I was told, constructing my personal mythology on the flimsiest of facts."
But Jaffe wasn't quite without assets. There was the $500,000 life insurance policy made out to his wife and underwritten by California Fidelity. With no corpse to prove death, however, the insurance company was in no hurry to pay the claim. Dana Jaffe had to wait out the statutory five years until her missing husband could be declared legally dead. Just two months before Wendell Jaffe was sighted in that dusty resort bar, California Fidelity finally paid in full. Now they wanted the truth. And they were willing to hire Kinsey Millhone to dig it up.
As Kinsey pushes deeper into the mystery surrounding Wendell Jaffe's pseudocide, she explores her own past, discovering that in family matters as in crime, sometimes it's better to reserve judgment.
"J" is for judgment: the kind we're quick to make and often quicker to regret.
"J" Is for Judgment: Kinsey Millhone's tenth excursion into the dark places of the heart where duplicity is the governing rule and murder the too-frequent result.
"A" Is for Alibi
"B" Is for Burglar
"C" Is for Corpse
"D" Is for Deadbeat
"E" Is for Evidence
"F" Is for Fugitive
"G" Is for Gumshoe
"H" Is for Homicide
"I" Is for Innocent
"J" Is for Judgment
"K" Is for Killer
"L" is for Lawless
"M" Is for Malice
"N" Is for Noose
"O" Is for Outlaw
"P" Is for Peril
"Q" Is for Quarry
"R" Is for Ricochet
"S" Is for Silence
"T" Is for Trespass
"U" Is for Undertow
"V" Is for Vengeance
"W" Is for Wasted
About the Author
Hometown:Montecito, California and Louisville, Kentucky
Date of Birth:April 24, 1940
Place of Birth:Louisville, Kentucky
Education:B.A. in English, University of Louisville, 1961
Read an Excerpt
J is for Judgment
A Kinsey Millhone Mystery
By Sue Grafton
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1993 Sue Grafton
All rights reserved.
On the face of it, you wouldn't think there was any connection between the murder of a dead man and the events that changed my perceptions about my life. In truth, the facts about Wendell Jaffe had nothing to do with my family history, but murder is seldom tidy and no one ever said revelations operate in a straight line. It was my investigation into the dead man's past that triggered the inquiry into my own, and in the end the two stories became difficult to separate. The hard thing about death is that nothing ever changes. The hard thing about life is that nothing stays the same. It began with a phone call, not to me, but to Mac Voorhies, one of the vice-presidents at California Fidelity Insurance for whom I once worked.
My name is Kinsey Millhone. I'm a licensed California private investigator, working out of Santa Teresa, which is ninety-five miles north of Los Angeles. My association with CF Insurance had been terminated the previous December, and I hadn't had much occasion to return to 903 State. For the past seven months I'd been leasing office space from the law firm of Kingman and Ives. Lonnie Kingman's practice is largely criminal, but he also enjoys the complexities of trials involving accidental injury or wrongful death. He's been my attorney of record for a number of years, stepping in with legal counsel when the occasion arises. Lonnie is short and beefy, a body-builder and a scrapper. John Ives is the quiet one who prefers the intellectual challenges of appellate work. I'm the only person I know who doesn't express routine contempt for all the lawyers in the world. Just for the record, I like cops, too: anyone who stands between me and anarchy.
Kingman and Ives occupies the entire upper floor of a small building downtown. Lonnie's firm consists of himself; his law partner, John Ives; and an attorney named Martin Cheltenham, Lonnie's best friend, who leases offices from him. The bulk of the day-to-day work is attended to by the two legal secretaries, Ida Ruth and Jill. We also have a receptionist named Alison and a paralegal named Jim Thicket.
The space I moved into used to be a conference room with a makeshift kitchenette. After Lonnie annexed the last available office on the third floor, he had a new kitchen built, along with a room for the copying equipment. My office is large enough to accommodate a desk, my swivel chair, some file cabinets, a mini-refrigerator and coffee maker, plus a big storage closet stacked with packing boxes untouched since the move. I have my own separate phone line in addition to the two lines I share with the firm. I still have my answering machine, but in a pinch Ida Ruth covers incoming calls for me. For a while I made a pass at finding another office to rent. I had sufficient money to make the move. A sidebar to a case I was working before Christmas resulted in my picking up a twenty-five-thousand-dollar check. I put the money in some CDs — the bank kind, not the music — where it was happily collecting interest. In the meantime I discovered how much I liked my current circumstances. The location was good, and it was nice to have people around me at work. One of the few disadvantages of living alone is not having anyone to tell when you're going someplace. At least now at work I had people who were aware of my whereabouts, and I could check in with them if I needed any mothering.
For the past hour and a half, on that Monday morning in mid-July, I'd sat and made phone calls on a skip trace I was working. A Nashville private investigator had written me a letter, asking if I'd check local sources for his client's ex-husband, who was six thousand dollars in arrears on his child support. Rumor had it that the fellow had left Tennessee and headed for California with the intention of settling somewhere in Perdido or Santa Teresa counties. I'd been given the subject's name, his previous address, his birth date, and his Social Security number with instructions to develop any lead I could. I also had the make and model of the vehicle he was last seen driving, as well as his Tennessee license plate number. I'd already written two letters to Sacramento: one to request driver's license information on the subject, another to see if he'd registered his 1983 Ford pickup. Now I was calling the various public utility companies in the area, trying to see if there were any recent hook-ups in the guy's name. So far I hadn't hit pay dirt, but it was fun anyway. For fifty bucks an hour, I'll do just about anything.
When Alison buzzed me on the intercom, I leaned over automatically and depressed the lever. "Yes?"
"You have a visitor," she said. She's twenty-four years old, bubbly and energetic. She has blond hair to her waist, buys all her clothes in size 4 "petite," and dots the "i" in her name with a heart or a daisy, depending on her mood, which is always good. Somehow she sounded as if she were calling on one of those "telephones" kids make with two Dixie cups and a length of string. "A Mr. Voorhies with California Fidelity Insurance."
Like a comic strip character, I could feel a question mark form above my head. I squinted, leaning closer. "Mac Voorhies is out there?"
"You want me to send him back?"
"I'll come out," I said.
I couldn't believe it. Mac was the man who supervised most of the cases I'd worked for CF. It was his boss, Gordon Titus, who'd fired my sorry ass, and while I'd made my peace with the change in my employment, I could still feel a flush of adrenaline at the thought of the man. Briefly I entertained a little fantasy that Gordon Titus had sent Mac to offer his abject apologies. Fat chance, I thought. I did a hasty survey of the office, hoping it didn't look like I'd fallen on hard times. The room wasn't large, but I had my own window, lots of clean white wall space, and burnt orange carpeting in an expensive wool shag. With three framed watercolors and a leafy four-foot ficus plant, I thought the place looked very tasteful. Well, okay, the ficus was a fake (some sort of laminated fabric tinted with accumulated dust), but you really couldn't tell unless you got up real close.
I would have checked my reflection (Mac's arrival was already having that effect), but I don't carry a compact and I already knew what I'd see — dark hair, hazel eyes, not a smidge of makeup. As usual, I was wearing jeans, my boots, and a turtleneck. I licked my palm and ran a hand across my shaggy head, hoping to smooth down any stick-up parts. The week before, in a fit of exasperation, I'd picked up a pair of nail scissors and whacked all my hair off. The results were just about what you'd expect.
I hung a left in the corridor, passing several offices on my way to the front. Mac was standing by Alison's desk out in the reception area. Mac's in his early sixties, tall and scowling, with a flyaway halo of wispy gray hair. His brooding black eyes are set slightly askew in a long bony face. In lieu of his usual cigar, he was smoking a cigarette, ash tumbling down the front of his three-piece suit. Mac has never been one to plague himself with attempts at fitness, and his body, at this point, resembles a drawing from a child's perspective: long arms and legs, foreshortened trunk with a little head stuck on top.
I said, "Mac?"
He said, "Hello, Kinsey," in a wonderful wry tone.
I was so happy to see him that I started laughing out loud. Like some great galumphing pup, I loped over to the man and flung myself into his arms. This behavior was greeted by one of Mac's rare smiles, revealing teeth that were tarnished from all the cigarettes he smoked. "It's been a long time," he said.
"I can't believe you're here. Come on back to my office and we can visit," I said. "You want some coffee?"
"No, thanks. I just had some." Mac turned to stub out his cigarette, realizing belatedly that there weren't any ashtrays in the area. He looked around with puzzlement, his gaze resting briefly on the potted plant on Alison's desk. She leaned forward.
"Here, why don't you let me take that?" She removed the cigarette from his fingers and took the burning butt directly to the open window, where she gave it a toss, peering out afterward to make sure it didn't land in someone's open convertible in the parking lot.
Mac followed me down the hall, making polite responses as I filled him in on my current circumstances. When we reached my office, he was properly complimentary. We caught up on gossip, exchanging news about mutual friends. The pleasantries gave me time to study the man at close range. The years seemed to be speeding right along for him. He'd lost color. He'd lost about ten pounds by the look of him. He seemed tired and uncertain, which was completely uncharacteristic. The Mac Voorhies of old had been brusque and impatient, fair-minded, decisive, humorless, and conservative. He was a decent man to work for, and I admired his testiness, which was born of a passion for getting the job done right. Now the spark was missing and I was alerted by the loss.
"Are you okay? You don't seem like your old self somehow."
He gestured peevishly, in an unexpected flash of energy. "They're taking all the fun out of the job, I swear to God. Damn executives with all their talk about the bottom line. I know the insurance business ... hell, I've been at it long enough. CF used to be family. We had a company to run, but we did it with compassion and we respected each other's turf. We didn't stab each other in the back and we didn't short-change any claimants. Now, I don't know, Kinsey. The turnover's ridiculous. Agents are run through so fast, they hardly have a chance to unpack their briefcases. All this talk about profit margins and cost containment. Lately I find myself not wanting to go to work." He paused, looking sheepish, color coming up in his face. "God, would you listen? I'm beginning to sound like a garrulous old fart, which is what I am. They offered me an 'early retirement package,' whatever the hell that means. You know, they're maneuvering to get some of us old birds off the payroll as soon as possible. We earn way too much and we're too set in our ways."
"You going to do it?"
"I haven't decided yet, but I might. I just might. I'm sixty-one and I'm tired. I'd like to spend time with my grandkids before I drop in my tracks. Marie and I could sell the house and get an RV, see some of the country and visit the clan. Keep making the rounds so we don't wear out our welcome." Mac and his wife had eight grown kids, all of them married with countless children of their own. He waved the subject aside, his mind apparently focused on something else. "Enough of that stuff. I got another month to decide. Meantime, something's come up and I thought about you."
I waited, letting him get around to the subject in his own good time. Mac always did better when he set the stage for himself. He took out a pack of Marlboros and shook a cigarette into view. He dried his lips with one knuckle before he put the cigarette between his teeth. He took out a pack of matches and lit up, extinguishing the match flame with a mouthful of smoke. He crossed his legs and used his pants cuff as an ashtray, leaving me to worry he'd set his nylon socks ablaze. "Remember Wendell Jaffe's disappearance about five years back?"
"Vaguely," I said. As nearly as I remembered, Jaffe's sailboat had been found, abandoned and adrift, off the coast of Baja. "Run it by me again. He's the guy who vanished out at sea, right?"
"So it appeared." Mac seemed to wag his head, casting about for a quick narrative summary. "Wendell Jaffe and his partner, Carl Eckert, put together limited partnerships for real estate deals to develop raw land, build condominiums, office buildings, shopping centers, that kind of thing. They were promising investors a fifteen percent return, plus the return of their original investment within four years before the two partners would take a profit. Of course, they got in way over their heads, taking off big fees, paying huge 'overhead' expenses, rewarding themselves handsomely. When profits failed to materialize, they ended up paying old investors with the new investors' money, shifting cash from one shell company to the next, constantly soliciting new business to keep the game afloat."
"In other words, a Ponzi scheme," I inserted.
"Right. I think they started with good intentions, but that's how it ended up. Anyway, Wendell began to see that it couldn't go on forever, and that's when he went off the side of that boat. His body never surfaced."
"He left a suicide note, as I recall," I said.
"That he did. From all reports, the man was exhibiting all the classic symptoms of depression: low spirits, poor appetite, anxiety, insomnia. He finally goes off on his fishing boat and jumps overboard, leaving a letter to his wife. In it, he says he's borrowed every cent he can, pouring it into what he now realizes is a hopelessly failing business. He owes everybody. He knows he's let everybody down and he just can't face the consequences. Meantime, she and his two sons were in a hell of a situation."
"What ages were his kids?"
"I believe the older boy, Michael, was seventeen and Brian was about twelve. Jesus, what a mess. The scandal left his family reeling and forced some of his investors into bankruptcy. His business partner, Carl Eckert, ended up in jail. It looked like Jaffe jumped just before his house of cards collapsed. The problem was, there really wasn't any concrete proof of death. His wife petitioned for a court-appointed administrator to manage his assets, or the few he had left. The bank accounts had been stripped and the house was mortgaged to the hilt. She ended up losing that. I felt sorry for the woman. She hadn't worked in years, since the day she married him. Suddenly she had these two kids to support, not a cent in the bank, and no marketable skills. Nice lady, too, and it was rough on her. Since then, we've had five years of dead silence. Not a whisper of the man. Not a trace."
"But he wasn't dead?" I said, anticipating the punch line.
"Well, now I'm getting to that," Mac said with a touch of irritation. I tried to silence my questions so he could tell it his way. "The question did come up. Insurance company wasn't anxious to pay off without a death certificate. Especially after Wendell's partner was charged with fraud and grand theft. For all we knew, he was a skip, taking off with the bucks to avoid prosecution. We never said as much, but we were dragging our feet. Dana Jaffe hired a private investigator who initiated a search, but never turned up a shred of evidence pro or con." Mac went on. "Couldn't prove he was dead, but you couldn't prove he wasn't, either. A year after the incident, she petitioned the court to have the man declared dead, citing the suicide note and his depressed mental state. Presented affidavits and whatnot, testimony from his partner and various friends. At that point, she notified CF she was filing a claim as his sole beneficiary. We launched our own investigation, which was fairly intense. Bill Bargerman handled it. You remember him?"
"Name sounds familiar, but I don't think we ever met."
"He was probably working out of the Pasadena office back then. Good man. He's retired now. Anyway, he did what he could, but there was no way we could prove Wendell Jaffe was alive. We did manage to overcome the presumption of death — temporarily. In light of his financial problems, we argued successfully that it was unlikely, if Jaffe was living, that he'd voluntarily appear. Judge ruled in our favor, but we knew it was only a matter of time before he reversed himself. Mrs. Jaffe was plenty mad, but all she had to do was wait. She kept the premiums on his policy paid and went back into court when the five years were up."
"I thought it was seven."
"The statute was changed about a year ago. The Law Revision Commission modernized the procedure for probate in the estate of a missing person. Two months ago, she finally got a finding and order from the superior court and had Wendell declared dead. At that point, the company really had no choice. We paid."
"Ah, the thick plottens," I said. "How much are we talking?"
"Five hundred thousand dollars."
"Not bad," I said, "though maybe she deserved it. She sure had to wait long enough to collect."
Mac's smile was brief. "She should have waited a little longer. I had a call from Dick Mills — another retired CF employee. He claims he spotted Jaffe down in Mexico. Town called Viento Negro."
Excerpted from J is for Judgment by Sue Grafton. Copyright © 1993 Sue Grafton. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As like all the books in this series it was great! I like that Kinsey was able to discover more about herself in the process of solving the mystery. I liked the twist at the end and for once Kinsey is not fighting for her life because she got too close. A good story with a slight open ended finish bring on "K".
As you read these books you will find them hard to put down and will look forward to the next
Well, after reading ten of them, I'm reasonably certain that Sue Grafton does not know how to write a bad book. I feel a bit repetitive, but J is for Judgment is terrific. Well written, strong characters, emotional roller coasters, suspense and mystery. Such a great detective series. Kinsey is fantastic, and I love seeing her adapt and grow. I also love the lack of technology and how she always makes it work for her.
This is a good read. I love Sue Grafton.
Kinsey has some real personal surprises in store for her. Great book; I recommend it!
I liked this one more than most. My preference is fewer but well-defined characters. This fit the bill. Interesting twists. I've just finished " K is for Killer," which I found lacking.
I really liked this one. It kept me guessing until the end.
Altho some people think this was one of her best, i didnt think so. It was ok but some of the others are better.
Sue Grafton does it again. Very well written mystery. Keeps you guessing. Recommend that you read this series starting with A is for Alibi & work your way through the alphabet. Super writing!
I have been reading this series in order and enjoying all of them to varying degrees. This installment is not the most suspensful, but it is an engaging story with well-balanced characters and lots of surprises. I you don't plan to read the entire series, be sure to read this one!
ALL her books have been excellent in my opinion -- she just seems to get better. Lets hope she doesn't quit with Z. If you have never read a Grafton just pick one -- you will then go in search of all the others -- trust me on this!
I don't understand how I can like some of this series so much and then dislike some of them so much. I really liked 'I' but I had to make myself even finish 'J'. I already have 'K' bought so guess I will read it. In 'J' Kinsey is hired to find a Wendell Jaffe. He was supposed to have died five years ago but has been spotted. The insurance company that paid out half a million dollars in money to his widow wants him found. Kinsey does find him and gets involved will all his family, wife, kids, and grandkids. Kinsey ends up loosing him and has to look for him again. Along the way she finds some cousins of her own she did not know she had. I don't think she is really to happy about that. I may have read to many of this series. They seem to all be about the same now. Grafton has done better.
'J' is for Judgement was good. I've read A-J already and just started 'K' is for Killer. Grafton knows how to keep you in suspense. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of these books.
I just love this series. I am familiar with the area where Kinsey lives and operates even though the name has been changed. Sue Grafton will be greatly missed.
Once again, I was engrossed with the story, the characters, and the wonderful way Ms Grafton played with the readers, adding humor and thoughtfulness to the plot, never letting on who did what to whom! Hated that it came to an end, but I too am left with questions about the "rest of the story!" Enjoy, everyone!
Kinsey is surprised to be hired once again by California Fidelity. They’ve just paid out a claim on Wendell Jaffe’s life insurance five years after his supposed dead at sea only to hear he’s been spotted down in Mexico. Kinsey locates Jaffe only to have him vanish again. Can she prove he is still alive? This is another fantastic mystery. The characters are strong and help pull us in. The story itself has plenty of twists and turns before we reach the climax. We have some time for updates from the series regulars, and I love what is happening there. Kinsey also stumbles on a surprise in her personal life. I’m curious to see how this sub-plot plays out in future novels.
Great addition to an excellent series. I find these mysteries so satisfying.
Dont know what people are raving about, dont care for the two pages of filler before she gets on with the plot. Takeout most of the filler and the book would be about a hundred pages lonh