Sue Grafton’s new collection of short stories, Kinsey and Me, is a mixed bag of material.
There are gems inside that fans of Grafton’s “alphabet series” of Kinsey Millhone detective capers are sure to enjoy.
Her bestselling novels, dating back to 1982’s A Is for Alibi and progressing all the way to 2011’s V Is for Vengeance, are all readily available in bookstores.
But did you know that Grafton also wrote eight mystery shorts featuring her plucky private eye?
Published in the late 1980s and early ’90s in Redbook and in various anthology collections, these breezy detective shorts haven’t been as easy to track down over the years.
That makes Kinsey and Me a kind of desert oasis for die-hard, read-everything-already fans as they wait for the next installment in the series, the as-yet-untitled “W” book due this year.
But accompanying these solid mini-mysteries is a collection of head-scratchers that simply don’t belong in the same volume: 13 quasi-autobiographical stories about a girl named Kit Blue and her painful early life with an alcoholic mother.
It’s as if Grafton and her publisher worried that a slender 200 pages of Kinsey Millhone stories weren’t enough, that they needed to fatten up the book with something more, anything more, and ultimately wound up with two tastes that don’t go great together.
The truth, however, is that Kinsey and Me is actually a reprint of a story collection Grafton privately published in 1991, printing a mere 300 copies to distribute among friends and family members.
Grafton’s rationale for putting these mismatched stories in the same book?
“I wanted readers to see the curious juxtaposition of my public and private selves,” the author has said.
“Kinsey Millhone is an invented version of me. Kit Blue is the ‘self’ I was 50 years ago.
“These stories are very personal, exploring emotional wounds that have long since healed. I thought others might benefit from seeing the troubles I survived and knowing it’s possible to work through painful family issues.
“None of us gets to choose our parents, nor do we have any say in the matter of what happens to us early on in life. The only power we have is to turn our misfortunes to our own advantage instead of allowing ourselves to be defined by them.”
But do Sue Grafton fans really want that from her? Maybe some readers will think it’s interesting.
But most will probably yearn for more of what attracted them to Grafton’s writing in the first place.
Alas, there’s only one “new” Kinsey Millhone tale accompanying the eight aforementioned stories. It’s a goofy five-page reprint from a 2003 Lands’ End catalog in which the heroine persistently plugs the clothing company’s Squall Parka with Thermolite Micro insulation.
It’s like something Elaine would write for the J. Peterman catalog in an episode of Seinfeld.
Seriously, the dialog in this story includes an exchange in which a suspect says, “Nice jacket, by the way. It looks warm,” and Kinsey replies, “Thanks, it is. It’s also machine-washable.”
If the author really wanted to make this book special, maybe she should have put her back into writing two new mystery short stories. Or a 100-page novella.
Readers are being asked to hand over $27.95 for Kinsey and Me. They should get something truly special in return.
“Kinsey and Me” by Sue Grafton; Marian Wood/Putnam ($27.95)
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