Executive Times






2008 Book Reviews



T is for Trespass by Sue Grafton




(Mildly Recommended)




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The twentieth novel in the Kinsey Millhone series by Sue Grafton is titled T is for Trespass. This time around Kinsey deals with the consequences of a fall, taken by her elderly neighbor Gus Vronsky. His closest relative is a grand niece living on the other coast, and preoccupied by a busy job. That leaves Kinsey with a neighborly sense of obligation in ensuring that Gus receives the care he needs. Instead, Kinsey finds herself in a battle of wits with the caregiver she helped select. Grafton explores elder abuse and identity theft on these pages, while expanding Kinsey’s ability to take on a formidable foe. Here’s an excerpt, from the beginning of Chapter 2, “December 1987,” pp. 9-11:


My name is Kinsey Millhone. I'm a private investigator in the small Southern California town of Santa Teresa, ninety-five miles north of Los Angeles. We were nearing the end of 1987, a year in which the Santa Teresa Police Department crime analyst logged 5 homicides, 10 bank robberies, 98 residential burglaries, 309 arrests for motor vehicle theft and 514 for shoplifting, all of this in a population of approximately 85,102, excluding Colgate on the north side of town and Montebello to the south.

It was winter in California, which meant the dark began its descent at five o'clock in the afternoon. By then, house lights were popping on all over town. Gas fireplaces had been switched on and jet blue flames were curling up around the stacks of fake logs. Somewhere in town, you might've caught the faint scent of real wood burning. Santa Teresa doesn't have many deciduous trees, so we aren't subjected to the sorry sight of bare branches against the gray December skies. Lawns, leaves, and shrubberies were still green. Days were gloomy, but there were splashes of color in the landscape—the salmon and magenta bougainvillea that flourished through December and into February. The Pacific Ocean was frigid—a dark, restless gray—and the beaches fronting it were deserted. The daytime temperatures had dropped into the fifties. We all wore heavy sweaters and complained about the cold.

For me, business had been slow despite the number of felonies in play. Something about the season seemed to discourage white-collar criminals. Embezzlers were probably busy Christmas shopping with the money they'd liberated from their respective company tills. Bank and mortgage frauds were down, and the telemarketing scamsters were listless and uninterested. Even divorcing spouses didn't seem to be in a battling mood, sensing perhaps that hostilities could just as easily carry over into spring. I continued to do the usual paper searches at the hall of records, but I wasn't being called upon to do much else. However, since lawsuits are always a popular form of indoor sport, I was kept busy working as a process server, for which I was registered and bonded in Santa Teresa County. The job put a lot of miles on my car, but the work wasn't taxing and netted me sufficient money to pay my bills. The lull wouldn't last long, but there was no way I could have seen what was coming.

At 8:30 that Monday morning, December 7, I picked up my shoul­der bag, my blazer, and my car keys, and headed out the door on my way to work. I'd been skipping my habitual three-mile jog, unwilling to stir myself to exercise in the predawn dark. Given the coziness of my bed, I didn't even feel guilty. As I passed through the gate, the comforting squeak of the hinges was undercut by a brief wail. At first I thought cat, dog, baby, TV. None of the possibilities quite captured the cry. I paused, listening, but all I heard were ordinary traffic noises. I moved on and I'd just reached my car when I heard the wailing again. I reversed my steps, pushed through the gate, and headed for the backyard. I'd just rounded the corner when my landlord appeared. Henry's eighty-seven years old and owns the house to which my studio apartment is attached. His consternation was clear. "What was that?"

"Beats me. I heard it just now as I was going out the gate."

We stood there, our ears attuned to the usual sounds of morning in the neighborhood. For one full minute, there was nothing, and then it started up again. I tilted my head like a pup, pricking my ears as I tried to pinpoint the origin, which I knew was close by.

"Gus?" I asked.

"Possibly. Hang on a sec. I have a key to his place."

While Henry returned to the kitchen in search of the key, I covered the few steps between his property and the house next door, where Gus Vronsky lived. Like Henry, Gus was in his late eighties, but where Henry was sharp, Gus was abrasive. He enjoyed a well-earned reputation as the neighborhood crank, the kind of guy who called the police if he thought your TV was too loud or your grass was too long. He called Animal Control to report barking dogs, stray dogs, and dogs that went doo-doo in his yard. He called the City to make sure permits had been issued for minor construction projects: fences, patios, replacement windows, roof repairs. He suspected most things you did were illegal and he was there to set you straight. I'm not sure he cared about the rules and regulations as much as he liked kicking up a fuss. And if, in the process, he could set you against your neigh­bor, all the better for him. His enthusiasm for causing trouble was probably what had kept him alive for so long. I'd never had a run-in with him myself, but I'd heard plenty. Henry tolerated the man even though he'd been subjected to annoying phone calls on more than one occasion.

In the seven years I'd lived next door to Gus, I'd watched age bend him almost to the breaking point. He'd been tall once upon a time, but now he was round-shouldered and sunken-chested, his back forming a C as though an unseen chain bound his neck to a ball that he dragged between his legs. All this flashed through my mind in the time it took Henry to return with a set of house keys in hand.


For most of the novel, I thought Grafton had become re-energized with Kinsey, and was writing a better novel than in the past few letters in the alphabetized series. The end of the novel brought resolution, but not satisfaction, so that theft of satisfaction lost a star in my rating for  T is for Trespass. Readers who have been fans for years have long awaited the letter T, and will read it no matter what. Other readers might want to take a pass, and wait another year or two to see what the letter U will bring, or go back to an earlier place in the alphabet.


Steve Hopkins, May 15, 2008



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the June 2008 issue of Executive Times


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