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U is for Undertow: A Kinsey Millhone Novel Hardcover – December 1, 2009

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Editorial Reviews Review

Robert B. Parker and Sue Grafton: Author One-on-One
In this Amazon exclusive, we brought together blockbuster authors Robert B. Parker and Sue Grafton and asked them to interview each other.

Robert B. Parker’s wise-cracking, street-smart Boston private-eye Spenser earned him a devoted following and wide critical acclaim. Before his death in January 2010, Parker also wrote the bestselling Jesse Stone novels and a new series of Westerns featuring two guns-for-hire, Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch. Read on to see Robert B. Parker's questions for Sue Grafton, or turn the tables to see what Grafton asked Parker.

Robert B. Parker Parker: Tell me about you and Kinsey Millhone and the connection between you.

Grafton: Kinsey Millhone is my alter ego, the woman I might have been had I not married young and had children. She's younger, thinner, and braver than I, but a good companion nonetheless. Since she can know only what I know, I've taken classes in criminal law and self-defense. I've studied police procedure, private eye procedure, toxicology, ballistics, and crime scene investigation. Beyond that, the prime agreement between us is that I don't tell her, she tells me. When readers ask what she’ll be doing after Z is for Zero, I assure them I haven't the faintest idea.

Parker: Describe your writing process (e.g., I get up in the morning, have a martini to get my heart going…).

Grafton: I take a 5.4-mile walk five days a week, so my writing schedule is often dictated by the weather. If it's too hot or too cold, I walk first thing in the morning, come home, shower, dress, and reach my desk at 9:45 or so. I work until lunch, when I take a short break, returning to my desk until mid-to-late afternoon. If I haven't done a morning walk, I walk when my work is done. Then I drink.

: You've spent time in Hollywood. Tell me about that.

: I refer to that period of my life as "doing one to fifteen in Hollywood." I loved it at first, as dazzled as anyone who hasn't figured out yet how treacherous life there can be. As I've said on previous occasions, I learned two things about myself in Hollywood: one, I'm not a team player; and two, I'm not a good sport. The producers I met were well-educated and articulate, and usually offered me a cup of coffee before they set in to savaging my work. I got too old and cranky to put up with that, so I invented Kinsey Millhone as my way out. I liken it to digging my way out of prison with a teaspoon.

: Do you read reviews? Pay attention to them? Find them helpful? Have an opinion on them?

: Where possible, I avoid reviews. The good ones only encourage swell-headedness and the bad ones hurt my feelings or infuriate me. In either case, by the time reviews appear, the book is written and out on the stands. What's a poor girl to do? There's no point in subjecting myself to the reactions of readers and reviewers, since their response is nothing I can control.

: People sometimes ask me why I write what I write, and I answer, "Because that's what I know how to do." (Then they say, "Would you please stop?" but I'm sure they're just kidding.) Talk about why you write what you write.

: I write what I write because when I put in my application for a position at Sears, they never got back to me. I'm still hopeful, especially with the Christmas season coming up. Aside from that, I write what I write because when the work is going well, it makes me happier than just about anything except my kids and grandkids. When the work is not going well . . . which is maybe thirty-five percent of the time . . . I know it's my job to sit patiently and keep at it until I figure out what's wrong. In large part, writing is the only thing I know how to do.

From Publishers Weekly

False memory syndrome provides the core of bestseller Grafton's intriguing 21st crime novel featuring wry PI Kinsey Millhone (after T Is for Trespass). In 1988, Kinsey takes on client Michael Sutton, who claims to have recovered a childhood memory of men burying a suspicious bundle shortly after the unsolved disappearance of four-year-old Mary Claire Fitzhugh in 1972. But Sutton has a track record of unreliability, and Kinsey must untangle and reconfigure his disjointed recountings to learn if they are truth or fiction. Chapters told from the point of view of other characters in other time periods add texture, allowing the reader to assemble pieces of the case as Kinsey works on other aspects. A subplot involves Kinsey wrestling with conflicting information about her estranged family. Though whodunit purists may be a bit disappointed that the culprit is revealed well before book's end, both loyal Kinsey fans and those new to the canon will find much to like. Author tour. (Dec.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Series: A Kinsey Millhone Novel (Book 21)
  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Marian Wood Books/Putnam; 1st edition (December 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039915597X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399155970
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (717 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #73,846 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

New York Times-bestselling author Sue Grafton is published in twenty-eight countries and twenty-six languages--including Estonian, Bulgarian, and Indonesian. Books in her alphabet series, begun in 1982, are international bestsellers with readership in the millions. And like Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald, Grafton has earned new respect for the mystery form. Readers appreciate her buoyant style, her eye for detail, her deft hand with character, her acute social observances, and her abundant storytelling prowess. She has been named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America (2009) and is a recipient of the Ross Macdonald Literary Award (2004).

Sue Grafton has been married to Steve Humphrey for more than thirty years, and they divide their time between Montecito, California, and Louisville, Kentucky, where she was born and raised. Grafton, who has three children and four grandchildren, loves cats, gardens, and good cuisine.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

295 of 310 people found the following review helpful By E. Bukowsky HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Sue Grafton's "U is for Undertow" takes place in 1988, with flashbacks to 1967, the "Summer of Love." Kinsey Millhone, thirty-seven, is the veteran of two failed marriages. Most of her time is devoted to her work as a private investigator, and she occasionally socializes with a small group of friends, including her eighty-eight year old landlord, Henry Pitts. Kinsey's latest case involves Michael Sutton, who claims that he recently recalled an event that occurred when he was just six years old. In July of 1967, four-year-old Mary Claire Fitzhugh was abducted from her home in Horton Ravine, California. Although her parents agreed to pay the ransom demanded by Mary Claire's kidnappers, the money was not picked up and the child was never seen again. Sutton remembers playing in the woods when he saw two men digging a hole and burying a bundle in the ground, and he cannot help but wonder if the pair was burying the corpse of little Mary Claire. Michael hires Kinsey to reconstruct the past and find out if his memories are accurate.

Although Millhone is far from physically imposing, she has resources that may be more effective than brute force: Kinsey is smart, intensely curious, and reluctant to give up once she starts an investigation. When Kinsey is stymied, she shuffles the index cards on which she records her notes and tries to see matters from a different perspective. Sooner or later, she usually connects the dots. This mystery has many familiar elements, including long buried secrets, dysfunctional families, greed, stupidity, and selfishness. In addition, Grafton provides the reader with a poignant glimpse into Kinsey's early life that helps explain why she is a loner who is reluctant to trust anyone.
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94 of 101 people found the following review helpful By Green on December 1, 2009
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is my first experience reading a Sue Grafton mystery. What a treat! From the time I first started the book, she had me entranced. The story revolves around Kinsey Millhone, a 37 year old private investigator, who is hired to investigate an unsolved kidnapping of a little girl, Mary Claire Fitzhugh who disappeared twenty years before. Her probing, which at first seems to lead to a dead end, actually unleashes a tangle of complicated stories that provides insight to the twenty year mystery.

The setting splits between 1988, the "current" time of Kinsey's investigation, and 1967, the year of the child's kidnapping. The narration forks between Kinsey Millhone as she unfolds some inconsistencies in what appears to be nothing on the surface, Deborah Unruh, the grandmother turned mother to a little girl who experienced a similar episode as the missing girl, and other characters who unfold and show the sometimes undignified side of human nature. Each of the character's stories are enthralling, told in a voice that mirrors reality and captures the intricate details that shows how events can mold the character and direction of a life. At first, the stories may seem independent of each other, but as events from the past collide with the present, it becomes evident that their stories are intertwined and come together to portray the truth of the past, bit by bit.

Additionally, another subplot unfolds regarding Kinsey's personal life--her reconciling resentment regarding her family. An orphan, Kinsey was raised by her aunt who alienated her from the rest of her family. This subplot of Kinsey discovering the truth about her past was touching, and added an intimate flair to an already moving narrative.

I'm glad that I stumbled upon Grafton's novel.
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50 of 57 people found the following review helpful By L. Dean Murphy on December 2, 2009
Format: Hardcover
U is for the ubiquitous queen of Alphabet Soup titled mysteries. Any Sue Grafton novel reads like a welcomed but long-overdue letter from iconic private eye, Kinsey Millhone, bringing readers up to speed with her latest escapade. Following T is for Trespass, Grafton (who earned the title of Grand Master from Mystery Writers of America), has made a quantum leap by taking on social issues in the last few of her 21 too-realistic-to-be-fiction works.

Set in 1988, with flashbacks to social unrest of the `60s, Michael Sutton hires Kinsey to investigate what he thinks was the backyard burial of a kidnapped young girl in 1967, when he was six. From a wealthy family, Sutton was a wolf-crying boy at elite Climping Academy and now financially exiled from his family, loses credibility with police and Kinsey. And Kinsey learns a painful truth about preconceptions regarding her own family she discovered existed only four years previously. Predictably, characters face death during the investigation, and Sutton is pulled into the vortex. ["Vortex" would be an excellent installment name, following "Undertow".]

With perpetrators identified early on, this is not so much a whodunit as a whydunit, validating Grafton's title of Grand Master bestowed by her peers. While Kinsey--an average Jo--has learned to leap hurdles in her career, Sue Grafton has become an Olympic-class pole vaulter in hers. Impeccable plot, prose as rich as Warren Buffet, and everyone's favorite investigator make this a sure-fire bestseller.

Book quote: "Recently I'd been making an effort to upgrade my diet, which meant cutting down on the french fries and Quarter Pounders with Cheese that had been my mainstays.
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