Grafton's brilliant alphabet series of novels are so deceptively easy to read and enjoyable, one tends to forget that her moral compass - and, by extension, that of her ditsy, witty, self-deprecating P.I. heroine, Kinsey Millhone - is far sharper than that of most crime writers and their detectives.
Her canvas may be small-town America, but her themes are dark and universal. Kinsey’s mantra - often to her cost - is ‘Don’t let the bad guys win’, a motto real-life detectives and, indeed, politicians should have pinned on their office walls.
Here, Kinsey is making a rare foray into a department store when she notices, and helps to apprehend, a middle-age woman shoplifter called Audrey Vance. So far, so ordinary, but when a few days later Audrey’s body is found at a local suicide spot, her fiance begs Kinsey to investigate, finding it impossible to believe either that Audrey was a thief, or that she committed suicide.
Intrigued, Kinsey starts to make enquiries, but soon gets the feeling that Audrey was part of something much bigger - something that people are prepared to kill for. As ever, this story has a cracking plot, lots of interrelated narratives and such classy characterisation that it’s truly hard to say goodbye to the cast at the end. Heaven knows what we’ll do when Grafton gets to Z.