Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Sue Grafton: L is for Lawless

Sue Grafton is another favourite of mine. Her heroine, P.I. Kinsey Millhone, is so damn cool. Oneliners abound - Kinsey doesn't take crap from anybody. The kind of person one would like to know, even though she seems abrasive as hell. Grafton's alphabet series has also taught me that California is a lot bigger than we think here in Sweden, and a lot more varied. I like that, when you by-the-by get to know a place through reading a detective story.

Often (almost always) when I read I try to imagine what the book would be like as a film or tv series. I do this especially with crime fiction, for obvious treasons (a lot of it has been filmed). The L book is a novel that sometimes seems like it's been written with film rights in mind. Since Kinsey works alone there is often not a lot of dialogue in the books - or rather, we might have a bit of dialogue, and then Kinsey's thoughts on the conversation and what she's learnt from it. It's stuff that can be quite hard to translate to screenplay, I suspect. A lot of driving and looking tough and eating cheeseburgers while thinking. In this book however Kinsey teams up with an ex-con and his daughter, which gives plenty of opportunity for conversation - always a good way to explain the plot in a film. And we also get these clues: Kinsey hitches a ride with a limo driver who claims to have come up with the original story for Terms of Endearment, only to have it stolen from him. "That's the way Hollywood works. Real incestuous." He later parts with Kinsey saying: "You have any ideas for a female-type Sam Spade film, we could maybe collaborate. Chicks kickin' shit and stff like that."

Hello? Does it sound like Grafton is dropping hints or what? *giggles* And later, there is a fantastic scene which honestly made me laugh out loud (I then had to try to explain it to my youngest daughter, who didn't have a clue what I was on about), featuring a stubborn grandmother wielding a gun. Sounds "done" and trite, but it was actually quite surprising and well executed. Kudos, Ms. Grafton! In the hands of the right director this could, indeed, make a very enjoyable film. It is a very enjoyable book.

My biggest problem with Grafton's Millhone series is usually that they are so difficult to get a good grasp on, time-wise. She started writing them in the 80s, and they are still set in that era, even though time has moved on IRL (L is for Lawless was published in -95). However, not being American I think I don't always pick up on the subtle clues as to the decade we're in, because I often find myself going "whoa, how can he have been in WW2 and still be alive and kicking?" etc. Thanks to some definite information in LIFL it can be dated to 1985. I don't think it's just me being dense though, because I often have the same problem in figuring out what time of day it is and so on during the actual story.

Okay, so I'm being dense. But I could use a few more sentences that help me remember whether it's morning or night, especially since Kinsey keeps napping at all hours.

My second biggest problem is that sometimes the conclusion is a bit of a reach, IMO. People suddenly are exposed as bad guys, and I really wasn't following the argument, and there might be an unexpected shootout. These really aren't violent crime stories you see, so it's always a bit of an "oh?" moment when shots get fired. On the other hand, maybe this is a lot like real life - what do I know? Grafton does her research, and has based her stories on real cases sometimes. I definitely wasn't disappointed this time - I remember feeling a little cheated in the one where she meets a guy who turns out to be psycho, together with his brother. (Can't remember which letter - again, this is why I started this blog. It was long overdue.)

Anyway, I love this series. If people are wondering what to get me for Christmas, the library doesn't have all the books, so I haven't read A, B, C, D and E. In the same vein, you can also check which books my Marcia Muller the library has, and get me the other ones. Sharon McCone's another cool Sam Spade-type detective, that I'm fond of. Except Sharon has friends. Oh, and don't forget Alexander McCall Smith, while you're shopping.

Righty-oh, then. Below is the link to Sue Grafton's website, and also Marcia Muller's, since I mentioned her.

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