U is for Undertow

I’m all caught up with the alphabet series. I’m going to celebrate somehow. I think I’ll read one of the books that influenced Grafton the most, The Moving Target by Ross Macdonald. That should hold me over until the November release of V is for Vengeance. Smart, very smart.

I was initially skeptical about the subject of U. The mystery is a crime that happened 20 years earlier so Grafton leaves the first person for large chunks of the book, narrating a second story from multiple perspectives two decades previous. It also revisits the back story of her childhood and unearths a few secrets that Kinsey finds disturbing and hopeful.

It all works well and I was sucked in again. Here’s why: Grafton just says interesting and cool stuff. She uses the thoughtful musings of the deeply-etched main character Kinsey Millhone; just one of many reasons to read these books.

For example, this is Kinsey explaining her process of review and reflection on the case at hand:

I had a lot of ground to cover, consigning everything I’d learned to note cards, one item per card, which reduced the facts to their simplest form. It’s our nature to condense and collate, bundling related elements for ease of storage in the back of our brains. Since we lack the capacity to capture every detail, we cull what we can, blocking the bits we don’t like and admitting those that match our notions of what’s going on. While efficient, the practice leaves us vulnerable to blind spots. Under stress, memory becomes even less reliable. Over time we sort and discard what seems irrelevant to make room for additional incoming data. In the end, it’s a wonder we remember anything at all. What we manage to preserve is subject to misinterpretation. An event might appear to be generated by the one before it, when the order is actually coincidental. Two occurrences may be linked even when widely separated by time and place. My strategy of committing facts to cards allowed me to arrange and rearrange them, looking for the overall shape of a case. I was convinced a pattern would emerge, but I reminded myself that just because I wished a story were true didn’t mean that it was. (page 225)

That’s a beautiful insight into classic 3×5 note taking techniques for any purpose. Oh, and we have cool. Here is Kinsey’s recipe for helping a cancer survivor pack on some weight:

I’d introduced Stacey to junk food, which he’d never eaten in his life. Thereafter, I tagged along with him as he went from McDonald’s to Wendy’s to Arby’s to Jack in the Box. My crowning achievement was introducing him to the In-N-Out burger. His appetite increased, he regained some of the weight he’d lost during his cancer treatment, and his enthusiasm for life returned. Doctors were still scratching their heads. (page 264)

Her “crowning achievement.” That’s funny. Californians, they’re nutty. Sit tight and I’ll have my thoughts on the aforementioned book by Ross Macdonald shortly.