U is for Undertow - Sue Grafton, 2009
Annabelle shrugged and chose a roll from the basket. She pulled off one segment and buttered it. She took a bite and tucked the nugget of bread into one side of her cheek, a move that slightly muffled her speech.A little later Kinsey goes to interview someone who lives in a small town.
There was a pause while they studied their menus and decided what to have. Salads, rare New York strips, and baked potatoes with sour cream, green onion, and grated cheese.
He paused, looking up, as the waitress arrived at the table with the wine. She turned the bottle so Kip could read the label, and once he approved, she proceeded to open it. Kip sampled it, nodded, and said, "Very nice."
I retrieved my Mustang, gassed up at the entrance to the 101, and headed down the coast to Peephole (population 400). The area, like so much of California, was part of a Spanish land grant, deeded to Amador Santiago Delgado in 1831. His mother was distantly related to Maria Christina of Bourbon-Two Sicilies, the fourth wife of King Ferdinand VII...It goes on like that for two entire pages. Is this tourist brochure in any way relevant to the plot? No! It's as though the protagonists took down the gun on the wall in the first act, examined it, discussed the model, its provenance, and how to fire it, and then we never saw it again.
As I mentioned while discussing R is for Ricochet (I read S and T but didn't blog them & barely remember them), Grafton's alphabet mysteries are gradually turning into historicals. One could argue that she's dwelling on the details to document the 80s, or to show off her research (a common historical fiction failing)...or for the benefit of people from another culture? Jonathan wondered whether she'd hired someone to pad out the beginning of this book to meet the hypothesized page quota, but it reads exactly like Grafton's distinctive voice, taken to an extreme or parodied. She's always excelled at the immersive first-person experience, so that we know far more about Kinsey's daily life than about most other mystery protagonists.
But Grafton here crosses the line between documenting every detail in an interesting way--like Nicholson Baker in The Mezzanine--and walking the soporific reader through every minute of every day, diluting the telling moments with tedium.
Then on page 123 Walker McNally, one of the many people we've met so far, wakes up in a hospital with no memory of his drunken weekend and is told he killed a girl with his car. Like a python emerging from a swamp, the compelling, plot-weaving Grafton lifted me right out of the slog of the first quarter of the book, wrapped me in her coils and didn't let go again until the very satisfactory ending.
In other words, hang in there or skim until you get to the good stuff. Where are the editors of yore? Couldn't someone have carved away the flab and helped this become the taut little joyride it ought to be?