P is for Peril

I’m getting close to catching up with Grafton’s alphabet mystery things. They’re just frickin’ reliable and I can bank on some great fun. I would love to know how Grafton feels about her predecessors like Raymond Chandler. In certain ways she pays homage by creating a hard-boiled, lonesome, private detective embroiled in smartly woven crime novels that highlight greed, corruption, and other human frailties. But she also pokes fun a little and makes things lighter. This book made me think of some similarities and differences.

One method to deepen the persona of said private detective is to build a relationship with coffee, cigarettes, or some other sort of vice. For example, in The Long Goodbye Chandler often had Marlowe making coffee. Real good coffee. I seem to recall rich descriptions of a simple cup and it was easy for me to picture Marlowe hunched over a cup of coffee, reading the LA Times, sorting through the next steps in solving whatever mystery was unfolding.

In much the same way, Grafton has Millhone eating McDonald’s all the time. Junk food, it’s another vice. But it allows Grafton to throw in some humor. Early on, Millhone has this run-in with breakfast.

I stopped off at McDonald’s and ordered coffee and a couple of Egg McMuffins. I needed the comfort of junk food as well as the nourishment, if that’s what you want to call it. I munched while I drove, eating with such eagerness I bit my own index finger.

It’s easy to picture a Millhone eating in her car while she’s ruminating on the details of the case. Grafton’s methods always keep it a little lighter, but I think it’s just as effective for character development and it strikes the right chords with me for the most part. I don’t think Millhone is supposed to be as dark as Marlowe, and she isn’t.

But both Millhone and Marlowe are alike in that both of them shun the societal norms of marriage, kids, and settling down. Recall that passage I talked about where Marlowe goes on a tirade against any other life but the one he is living. Take a read, I excerpted it in The Long Goodbye post. Millhone has a moment kind of like that when she goes to interview someone for her case. She’s interviewing a woman at the woman’s home, where there’s a handful of screaming, rambunctious kids. The screaming is so loud that Millhone can’t concentrate on the conversation. She thinks:

I tried to concentrate on what Blanche was saying, but all I could think about was that even at my age, a tubal ligation probably wasn’t out of the question.

So, much like Chandler, Grafton crafts Millhone in a manner that you never have to worry about her giving up this detective thing. Maybe we’re wrong though, who knows, maybe at “Z,” Millhone will have a husband and a kid and just ride off into the sunset. Something to look forward to I guess. That would certainly close out Millhone.

Hillerman died a few months ago and I feel like he never closed out his characters. But I may be wrong because I didn’t read the last few with that thought in mind because I didn’t realize how close to death he was. I’ll reread them all when I retire.