Book review: Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton

Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton
Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton

It might only seem like ‘yesterday’ since A is for Alibi – Sue Grafton’s first alphabet mystery starring private investigator Kinsey Millhone – hit the shelves but it’s actually a staggering 35 years!

Grafton, now aged 77 and the daughter of mystery writer C. W. Grafton, has herself become a hugely popular mystery writer both here and in the United States. Born in Kentucky, she began her career as a TV scriptwriter before Kinsey Millhone and the ‘Alphabet’ series took off.

Set in 1980s Santa Teresa, a fictionalised town based on Santa Barbara, these clever, intriguing mysteries are noted for their excellent plotting, Eighties nostalgia, an exhilarating leading lady and beautifully drawn characters.

Y is for Yesterday, the twenty-fifth and – sadly for her devoted fans – penultimate novel in one of crime writing’s greatest and best-loved series, sees the ‘single and cranky-minded’ Californian sleuth on top form as she tackles a dark and disturbing case dating back to 1979.

It’s 1989 and still recovering from ‘a nasty run-in’ with serial rapist and killer Ned Lowe which saw her nearly strangled and the murderer escape arrest, Kinsey knows he is ‘a man obsessed’ and that she will never feel safe until he’s dead and buried.

But life and work go on for the wisecracking private detective and she heads of to visit her new clients, Hollis and Lauren McCabe, parents of 25-year-old Fritz who has just been released from prison after ten years inside for murdering fellow classmate Sloan Stevens.

In 1979, the two were students at Climping Academy, an elite and expensive private school in Santa Teresa and both had been involved in the furore over an exam paper cheating scandal. Fritz was one of four teenage boys who sexually assaulted a freshman classmate, Iris Lehmann, and filmed the attack.

Not long after, the tape went missing and the suspected thief, 14-year-old Sloan, was murdered. In the investigation that followed, one boy turned in evidence for the state and two of his peers were convicted. But the ringleader, Austin Brown, disappeared without a trace.

Moody, unrepentant and angry, Fritz has now walked free but he is a virtual prisoner of his ever-watchful parents. And they have a problem… a copy of the missing tape with footage of the sex assault has arrived with a ransom demand for $25,000 or it will be sent to the District Attorney.

In desperation, the McCabes have asked Kinsey Millhone to help. As she is drawn into their family drama, she keeps a watchful eye on Fritz. But he is not the only one haunted by the past. The vicious sociopath Ned Lowe has marked out Kinsey and is laying a deadly trap to finally ensnare her…

This new mystery may be almost the final bow for Grafton and her wonderfully entertaining and resourceful PI Kinsey Millhone but the dynamic duo show no signs of flagging. Gripping, intricately plotted and fast-paced as it weaves between 1979 and 1989, Y is for Yesterday reminds us just how much we have come to relish outings with the inimitable Kinsey.

The kick-ass Eighties detective, who has kept this series riding high for decades, cannot turn to Google or a mobile phone to help crack a case… instead, her old-fashioned powers of deduction, smart thinking and well-honed investigative skills have guided Kinsey through the best and the worst of times.

We have watched Kinsey’s life and loves evolve through twenty-five enthralling books… the final chapter of her story is due for publication in 2019. Will Z really be the end of it all, or can Grafton conjure up some more letters of the alphabet to appease her heartbroken followers?

(Mantle, hardback, £18.99)