01 Feb 2006
The murder that opens the eighth book in the Kinsey Millhone series is merely a curtain-raiser.
Sue Grafton’s alphabetic detective goes undercover to investigate a gang of Chicanos running an insurance scam. Bibianna Diaz is on the run from her former boyfriend, Raymond Maldonado. But Raymond — the man who taught her the fraud trade — is a man with a temper and he wants her back. Millhone’s case gets complicated when the police ask her to use Bibianna to infiltrate the ring.
But Millhone had never been trained for this work, so she spends most of the book alternating between getting the evidence on Raymond, running interference between the feuding couple and trying to keep her cover from getting blown.
The book has its problems. Millhone conveys little about Chicano culture beyond surface impressions. Thrusting an Anglo detective into another culture is an interesting notion, but Gregory Mcdonald did it better in “Carioca Fletch.”
Grafton did her homework on insurance scams, which in an unwieldy large state like California, where police rarely respond to accidents, has been refined to a high art. Raymond’s gang fakes auto accidents, or cause real ones, then filing insurance claims for fake injuries. This is described in detail twice, which is overkill in a 256-page book.
“Homicide” attempts to recreate real life without the heightened drama fiction demands, with mixed results. Grafton’s character’s act like real people. Everything is low-key. Even the violence lack an emotional punch. Some of the plot twists were not properly set up, so there is no enjoyment when they’re sprung.
If that wasn’t enough, the buildup at the beginning of the book with an insurance company’s efficiency expert becomes a cliff-hanger at the end, forcing readers to get the next book to learn all it shakes out. It’s ironic, then, that in a book about scams, the most profitable one is committed by the author.