Picks and Pans Review: "G" Is for Gumshoe

updated 04/23/1990 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/23/1990 01:00AM

by Sue Grafton

Kinsey Millhone celebrates her 33rd birthday by moving into her newly reconstructed apartment, taking on a missing persons case and trying her best to ignore the $1,500 price on her head, put there by an out-of-state felon she once helped place behind bars. All in all, it's not a terrible way for her to kick off a new year.

In less than 70 pages, smart-mouthed Kinsey, the best private eye working the fictitious streets of Santa Teresa, is up to her shapely ankles in desert intrigue, missing bodies, family betrayals and, of course, murder. She devotes what free time she can muster to planning her next blind date, helping her best friend, Vera, stay clear of the smokes and adjusting to life shadowed by a strong-willed bodyguard named Dietz:

"Dietz and I moved toward the entrance.

" 'Why so quiet?' he asked as he steered me through the lobby by the elbow like the rudder of a boat.

"I pulled my arm away automatically. " 'Sorry,' I murmured. 'I've been thinking about the banquet and it's put me in a bad mood.'

" 'Anything I can help with?'

"I shook my head. 'What's this feel like to you?'

" 'What, the job?'

" 'Yeah. Trailing around with me everywhere. Doesn't it get on your nerves?'

" 'I don't have nerves,' he said."

"G" is for Gumshoe is Sue Grafton's seventh Kinsey Millhone mystery ("B" is for Burglar; "F" Is for Fugitive) and the best of the growing lot. By skillfully weaving her way through an alphabet of crime, Grafton has hit the mystery field with a refreshing and sorely needed tropical breeze, moving it away from the cynical, increasingly violent and male-dominated arena it has been mining for these past 50 years.

Her Ms. Millhone is a sassy private eye who likes to bag bad guys and hates surprise parties. She prefers old to new, McDonald's to Burger King, jeans, T-shirts and sneakers to dresses, blouses and pumps. She runs instead of jogs, doesn't mind men who smoke and seldom wears makeup. In other words, she's the private eye of your dreams, providing your dreams allow for a beat-up car with a weak clutch, a loaded gun packed inside a purse and the occasional bomb threat.

The writing, as it has been in the other books in the series, is sharp and clear, with few wasted words. Grafton, who also writes TV movie scripts (Nurse, Agatha Christie's Sparkling Cyanide), works with a cinematic eye, possessing a keen visual sense of detail, color and style. The pace is fast, the crime difficult to solve. The secondary characters (Dietz especially) are strong enough to stand on their own.

"G" Is for Gumshoe is, if you haven't guessed by now, a first-rate mystery. (Holt, $16.95)

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