I used to really enjoy Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone books, but I went off them for a while in the middle of the alphabet. Somewhere around M or N she wandered away from the things I liked, focussing more on Kinsey’s past and less on her detective work. (I like my murder mysteries the way I like my Regency romances: just a shade too inventive to be labelled formulaic, but safe and predictable in tone and overall content.) With Q, Grafton and Kinsey are back on form.
Unlike most of the Grafton books, Q is for Quarry uses a real-life murder as its starting point: the unidentified body of a young woman, found in a quarry in 1969. Now, years later, Kinsey Millhone is asked to look into the murder along with the original investigating policemen. Kinsey’s sarcastic tone works nicely with the acrid personalities of the cops, both of whom are facing their own mortality. There is the usual assortment of interesting characters with undiscovered pasts, dogged legwork on Kinsey’s part, and a faintly embittered outsider’s view of social structures and functions.
At the end of the book is a note from Grafton herself, about the Jane Doe who was the genesis of the book. She explains which details she has added to the true story (the presence of a tarp, for instance) and which are original (the pattern on the victim’s trousers). She also includes a facial reconstruction, on the off chance that a reader may recognise the dead girl. The serious postscript would make a pooly written book seem tawdry, but Grafton’s prose and plotting, the sheer humanity of her characters, is not shamed.