23 Letters In, Grafton Still Makes Creative Choices

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Sue Grafton has consistently churned out clever, engaging books. That is no easy feat when you’re more than 20 books into a series. Her latest book, W Is For Wasted, is no exception. I read it this past weekend and loved it.

With many popular authors, their first few books are great and fascinating, but then once they’re established, they fall into a formula and their editors take a nap. Fortunately, there are authors like Grafton out there who demonstrate how to be a bestselling author while still making creative choices.

Grafton, for those unlucky enough to have not heard of her, is famous for her alphabet novels. The series started in 1982 with A is for Alibi, followed by B is for Burglar, and so on. Now that she has made it all the way to W, some fans, including me, speculate about what will happen after she hits Z. Will she start the alphabet again? Or maybe do it backwards?

The books always feature private detective Kinsey Millhone and there are some other recurring characters including her adorable neighbor, Henry. But for the most part, each book is a completely separate adventure. Some are slower paced with no huge surprises, but there are others with lots of twists. W is for Wasted has some definite twists and turns. There are a few predictable ones, but others will catch you off guard.

It is not immediately clear what the “wasted” of the title is alluding to. If I explained it, I’d ruin the story. So, I’ll just let you know it’s fun getting there. The cast of characters in this book includes the eccentric and, of course, those struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. In this book there are two main plot lines, and even I wasn’t able to predict how all the individual stories would connect until right before it became clear in the book.

You can get a sample of the book at this link. The link takes you to the prologue of the book where Grafton starts Kinsey down the road of the two major plot lines. Two people have died. One was an eccentric, scheming private eye she didn’t admire, Pete Wolinsky; The second is a homeless man whose full name isn’t learned until about halfway through the book. A piece of paper is found on this man with Kinsey’s name and phone number. You eventually learn what led to Pete and the homeless man’s death. Feel free to make your guesses but odds are you will be wrong.

Grafton makes some interesting choices in this book. She takes on topical issues. For example, what happens to a man accused and convicted of a horrible crime when he is exonerated years later? How will his kids (now adults) receive him? But the most interesting parts to me (without revealing spoilers) are Kinsey’s interactions with three friends of the dead homeless man. She takes on the issue of how the homeless are treated in our society today. Don’t worry, there’s no preaching or political propaganda here. Rather, Grafton lets the characters make the arguments. It is no easy task to write a mystery that avoids getting bogged down when it also decides to take on serious, societal topics. But, Grafton pulls it off with apparent ease.

Maureen Corrigan, of NPR’s program Fresh Air, says of the series, “Makes me wish there were more than twenty six letters at her disposal.”

Patrick Anderson of the Washington Post wrote, “Grafton’s [alphabet] novels are among the five or six best series any American has ever written.”

I couldn’t agree more. If you’re a fan of Grafton’s alphabet books, then you can’t go wrong with W is for Wasted.

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Signed copies of W is for Wasted is available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com (while supplies last).

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