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The Hard-Boiled-Egg Legacy of Violet
on October 3, 2006
Using a crisp, biting, time-warp prologue (or first chapter acting as a prologue) is a classic way of opening a P.I. mystery. I admire the heck out of the juicy artistic feel of this opening style, yet I generally have a hard time getting into a story with any type of preliminary literary shenanigan which doesn't sit me right down into an ongoing, "right-now" narrative. So, yes, I had a resistance to overcome prior to reading "S," even though I had read compulsively from "A" through "R."
I slid fairly easily into Kinsey's "I am a..." intro in chapter 2, with the bar/lunch scene in which Millhone reluctantly met her client over a "to drool for," scrumptiously described grilled kaiser roll with salami and pepper-cheese, fried-egg, innards. The melted white cheese infused with red-pepper-flakes definitely hot glued me onto a bar stool along with the characters. The usual Quarter Pounder with cheese would have worked, too, but, for whatever reasons, Kinsey somehow got the gourmet bug in "S."
Once the flow of the flashback chapters seated into the flow of the "I-Kinsey" narrative, I noticed that the Third Person narratives were deeply engrossing as well as intriguingly and stylishly written. I would certainly understand if Grafton had an itch to explore moods and thought patterns inside-the-heads of characters with varying degrees of anti-heroic traits, who would be vastly divergent from Kinsey in behavioral motivation and rationalization techniques. With tremendous panache, Grafton painted these rich psychological portraits from "inside-the-hearts-of-sinners-and-saints," and she blended them so seamlessly into the 1987 reality that I began to lose track of the 30-yr-cultural-gap, even though the 50's icons, idioms, and inlets-to-the-past were firmly crayoned into each July 1953 chapter.
Though some of the facts uncovered held a dark horror more like King's work than Grafton's, and though that ambiance was released abruptly, I felt no let down with the ending, and possibly the forewarning in the reports helped me there. The full circle, yummy symbolism of the kimono and the kaiser roll was awesome.
"S" is more a work of literary art, a true and classic novel with an experimental edge in the narrative machinations of the psychological profiling chapters, than it is a standard offering of detective fiction, though, for me, it also satisfied the cravings of that genre. After the plot signed off, I was left with a compulsion to reread several parts, then with a desire to reread the whole, cover to cover. This book has too much psychological pith to get it all in a single run through (given a challenged memory bank like mine).
The epilogue left me with the peaceful, haunting essence of the first sight of cherry blossoms after an extended, bone chilling winter.
Only one question remained for me as I closed the book:
Sue has many times earned the most exquisite, leading-edge, oil-painting renditions of the thematic essence of each of her books. So. Why is one of the classiest, most astute and revered publishing houses putting out Sue Grafton's phenomenal series with no artwork on the book-jackets?