Sue Grafton's S is for Silence

Let’s kick off our discussion of books by beginning with our ABCs. If you haven’t already discovered Sue Grafton’s New-York-Times-bestselling Alphabet books, you are certainly missing one of the most addictive series out there today. More than 10 million copies of her work are in print, and her novels have been translated into 26 languages. Kinsey Millhone is the female version of the hard-boiled private-eye detective, but one who is softened around the edges. She is self-reliant, tough, smart, and brave, yet a human and sympathetic character with whom readers can readily identify.

In S is for Silence, Daisy Sullivan hires Kinsey Millhone to investigate a cold case, the thirty-four-year-old murder of her mother, Violet. Daisy comes to realize that she cannot move forward with her life until she puts the past to rest. She is plagued with the haunting idea that her father might have murdered her mother. The crime occurred in a small town in Southern California, and the events of the novel alternate between the present and the past. Through a series of flashbacks, we meet the people who knew the murder victim.

The chief attraction of this riveting murder mystery is the character of the detective. Kinsey has the appeal of a familiar series character; readers form a close emotional bond with her. She rises to the challenge of this seemingly unsolvable crime and overcomes the difficulties and dangers it involves. The character of the murdered victim is intriguing and complex; Violet acts as a magnet for all the males she meets, and uses her charms to break free of a stifling life in a narrow, provincial town.

The storyline itself is intriguing with its alternation between the murder victim’s past life and the daughter’s inherited problems. The novel is filled with gripping suspense; Grafton keeps the reader guessing the murderer’s identity right to the end.

The chapters in the present are narrated from Kinsey’s perspective. The ones in the past are presented through a variety of narrators, providing the reader with both an inside and outside view of the crime. Because we view the events through multiple points of view, we judge for ourselves the characters’ motivations, and become intimately connected with the resolution of the crime. And, as Marilyn Stasio suggests in her New York Times review of the novel, “by alternating Kinsey’s brisk first-person narrative with dramatic flashbacks that catch the spirit of the town during its volatile post-war period, Grafton allows Violet to emerge as a dynamic but dangerous life force – irresistible to men, threatening to women and too reckless for her own good.”

This mystery contains low levels of violence and abusive language, an important consideration for some readers. With its examination of the affects of abuse and parental neglect, it will attract those interested in social issues.

Grafton, Sue. S is for Silence. New York: Berkley Books, 2005.