Book Reviews

Book Review: B is for Burglar by Sue Grafton – Feminism, 1980’s Style

I began reading Sue Grafton’s alphabet series at the behest of a friend after her death. I was told that the lead character of Kinsey Milhone was someone I would like, as she was a tough, independent woman unique to her era.

Kinsey is a divorced private detective. She lives in a converted garage and doesn’t have many needs. Even with that, business has been slow recently, so she reluctantly takes the case of Beverly Danziger. Beverly doesn’t look like she needs any more money, but claims that her sister has disappeared and needs to be located to sign documents pertaining to a small inheritance.

The search for the missing Elaine Boldt takes Kinsey to Florida and back. The more she digs, the stranger things become. Just as it looks like she might break the case wide open, Beverly tells her that her services are no longer required. Of course, if Kinsey listened to that, there wouldn’t be much of a book. Luckily, a busybody neighbor decides that Kinsey should keep looking for the “missing” woman.

B is for Burglar is very well-written. The mystery kept me guessing as Grafton gives us several possible answers that don’t pan out. It kept the suspense going throughout the book with interesting characters and events that may or may not eventually pay off.

However, this was the 1980s, and that means some things are very different. I’m not sure I could call the Kinsey here a feminist. She might be an independent woman, but there were many things about her that reminded me why I had issues with female friends. They tended to be catty, and Kinsey certainly is here with her appraisal of what people looked like. That said, she doesn’t need the help of a man, as is made clear. She doesn’t use feminine wiles to get information; she’s forward and clever – everything girls in the 1980s weren’t supposed to be. It was still an era when many of us tried to make ourselves smaller and not take up space. Kinsey does not shirk from taking up space.

It might be hard for some to grasp an era before cell phones, before airport security was tight, or when we had to have paper airplane tickets with carbon copies to get on a flight. It was a different time and Kinsey makes it work for her. People tended to talk without wondering whether they are violating privacy laws. However, this is the way things were back then and it made the character of Kinsey all the more remarkable.

One thing that happened in the 1980s was a push to get into shape and exercise. This seems to pervade the book as Kinsey runs – a lot. It seems at every turn she’s jogging or running somewhere. Part of it might be how she’s dealing with events in the first book, A is for Alibi, in which she killed someone. It’s nice that the book doesn’t completely toss aside the events of that first book, but continues with some of the consequences as part of her growth as a character.

With a good mystery and good ongoing character development, I really enjoyed reading this. It was also a bit of a trip down memory lane since I was 16 at the time B is for Burglar was released. Although dated in some ways, the mystery here is still good and still works very well to keep the reader guessing.

Previous book in the series (link): A is for Alibi

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