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U is for Undertow Book Review

Updated on August 15, 2015

X is the new Kinsey Millhone Novel

Kinsey is a heck of a detective and a real hero. Anyone eating McDonalds at almost 40 and keeping off the weight is always one in every woman's book

Reviewing a book is not always an easy task. Sue Grafton makes it less difficult because the Best Selling novelist writes an amazing tale again and again. The latest and greatest tale of Kinsey Millhone is a sizzler.

The mood is set with Kinsey meeting herself on her 38th birthday. There is always and air of trepidation when anyone is coming in at 40 years of age. There is an evaluation and stock taken of what has been achieved and what is left to do before death. This is where the detective discovers she is in her life and dealing with it on top of other things is a part of what affects her judgement in some decisions. Although the story moves forward there is always a shift back to getting close to big four o.

The storyline

The book is following an inquiry into the disappearance of a small child in 1967. Miss Millhone received a job to scrutinize the situation using her amazing detective skills. The obvious assumption is murder for the child, Marie Clare. Murder has no statute of limitations and when it comes to Kinsey, she peeks under every stone to discover the truth.This is especially true since the deed took place close to home in the small town of Santa Theresa, California.

She is hired by Mr. Sutton in 1988 to look into a nearly 20 year old case. A young man from her past, Micheal Sutton, claims to have experienced a memory from 1967 which connects with the child's disappearance.

The circumstances are murky as to why Mr. Sutton believes he is capable of remembering details. Things he shared were needed by the police to capture the kidnappers. He has held on them for almost 20 years since he was only six at the time.

The story goes through a metamorphosis of time lines, characters and who dun-nits. There are twists and turns wherever possible. This includes the kidnapping, murder and how the truth comes to light in the end.

The characters

There are tons of characters in the storyline. This follows the method Grafton uses to share the adventure with readers. Although the names, faces, dates and encounters are many with a number of individuals, she keeps a great flow without confusion. Even jumping back and forth between the 1960s and the 1980s is done without a lot of fuss.

Main character Kinsey Millhone

Sue Grafton has hooked tons of her fans on the main character of the "letter books". Miss Kinsey Millhone is a single, attractive and rather stubborn figure all around. There is a grittiness about her which says she is tough and durable. Though, lots of the encounters she experiences also lend an air to her feminine and gentle side. This is always a winning combination.

The time period is one of the things drawing a reader to or away from Miss Grafton's novels

The detective series crafted by Sue Grafton is amazing and unique. There is a switch from most modern day novels which either makes or breaks a fan. The time period is set exclusively pre-computer age. This is difficult to grasp for some younger readers and hard to fathom there was actually a time when a pay phone was viable.

The 1988 setting for U is for Undertow is no exception. As Kinsey travels through her amazing journey of self discovery she does so without the internet, cell phone and other 21st century conveniences taken for granted by most of us.

No spoiler alerts on this one

With a hazy memory from 20 years ago from the mind of a six year old, she digs until hitting pay dirt. There is an initial reluctance on the part of Kinsey for a number of reasons. One is the witness, Sutton, has "recovered" other memories from long ago which proved untrue. Although, this is possibly the case here as well, she pursues the matter. This is a child and no matter what time has passed, parents have the desire to know the truth. She gets to it.

A fine line exists for several characters as to where there conscious lies in the mist of the event. There is a surprise for each one as to whether or not they cross over it or not. The event is an emotional one provoking a response readers. This assures attention and scrutiny of each character while engaged.

Critics like it

There are more characters present in this tale than in previous alphabet books. Though, critics did not bash her for it. In fact, they admired Grafton for adding more depth and degree to a story.

Final thoughts

Around each corner another clue or bread crumb is left. The cast of characters is easy to follow, but the right hero to root for is not. There are tons of heroes and loads of villains which is what makes for a wonderful mystery. Grafton did it again. A wonderful read and way to pass the time.

Sue Grafton is a best selling author all over the world. She is the author of the mystery detective Kinsey Millhone.
Sue Grafton is a best selling author all over the world. She is the author of the mystery detective Kinsey Millhone. | Source

Parallel stories told

Another story is taking place inside of a story in the book. This is what keeps the guessing game constant. There is room for error and no matter how clever the reader believes he is, there is a surprise. Then another layer and story is added to the first two which makes it difficult to put the book down.

There is the kidnapping from 1967 tied to the present day tale from Micheal. This is one or is it two different stories? Then there is the tale of Raine. She was also a four year old kidnapped the same month as Marie Clare. Raine had a ransom of $15,000, which was paid and she was returned. Marie had one of $25,000, which was paid and she is still missing as of the time of the story.

Raine's tale is told by her grandmother. This is one also set in the late 60s and instrumental in understanding the time period and backdrop of the tale. This is a wonderful vehicle to help set the circumstances, situation and place for the real story Millhone is investigating.

This is a instrument which does not give away the initial question as to whether or not a six year old boy's memories of what happened are true or not. It keeps the mystery going and the suspense strong.

The 1960s generation

There was so much going on during this decade. The reader either lived through it and understands or Grafton has taken the time to fill in the blanks for anyone who did not. She includes the draft, the Vietnam War, hippies, drugs, women's rights and so much more. This is enjoyable and not seen very often with countless writers.

There is an assumption this atmosphere is known simply because a calendar year is mentioned. With this in mind it makes her story ideas more feasible and closer to truth. The closer fiction is to the truth the better it reads.

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Another side story

Readers familiar with Kinsey understand the orphan feelings the character experiences throughout the early alphabet stories. She is reunited with her family after more than 30 years of believing she was alone in the world. The encounter is not one where she jumped for joy. It is still being worked out rather rocky. Her childhood was not an especially happy one and family was not what inspired love and trust.

Raised by a maternal aunt who was anything other than loving, her Aunt Gin was harsh. It makes Kinsey extremely weary of personal relationships where a closeness is felt. This creates a vulnerability which is a hindrance in some cases and accounts for her being alone, but not lonely attitude. It is great for a spy or private investigator, but not the average person. The exception to her rule is a unique one between her and her landlord, Henry.

She is invited to attend a family function hosted by a grandmother she does not know very well and expected to mingle with cousins and other kin. The hesitancy felt is a back and forth battle fought internally and fueled by the big fortieth birthday coming her way. How she handles the circumstances also builds anticipation as the book continues.

Grafton discussing the alphabet books. Interview with the author on her work.

© 2015 smcopywrite


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    • Diana Lee profile image

      Diana L Pierce 2 years ago from Potter County, Pa.

      This author certainly has a friend in you. I have never read any of her work, but this review makes me think I should. I once had an author tell me I was giving too much information about his new release so I quickly revised a shorter version. I think personally knowing the author does make you recount your steps. But it is well worth getting acquainted even if it's only online. Good job. voted up.