Y is for Yesterday

[Amazon Link]

There are 483 pages in Sue Grafton's latest book, her penultimate entry (assuming I'm understanding the alphabetical titling correctly) in her Kinsey Millhone series. I somehow think that Lew Archer, the other fictional detective based in Santa Teresa, California could have polished off this little mystery in 200 pages or less.

The main plot thread here starts in 1979, in an exclusive private school. Troubled (and troublemaker) young Iris doesn't fit in well, until she latches onto popular GPoppy, who shares her affinity for misbehavior, weed, and booze. But Poppy's academic performance suffers, and Iris makes a spur-of-the-moment decision to swipe an upcoming proficiency test and its answers to "help".

Skip forward to 10 years later (1989 is Kinsey Millhone's "present") and there's been an intervening homicide, a long incarceration, a videotaped sexual assault (or was it?), an apparent fugitive from justice, and other misbehavior. Kinsey is called in when the tape resurfaces in an extortion attempt.

In addition, there's a leftover plot thread from the previous book in the series: a serial killer's back in town, and indications are that he might be targeting our girl. And there are the usual members of Kinsey's circle of recurring characters.

Now, I'm into this series for as long as it lasts, having pledged my reader loyalty over 3 decades back, back when Ms. Grafton could wind things up in a couple hundred pages. Back in 2004, before I quit Usenet and started blogging, I called her the Queen of Pointless Description because of her endless word-stuffing for no apparent purpose. Especially interior decoration of various abodes she visits. Ack!

Anyway, that trait continues here. In addition, the characters seem particularly cartoonish, their dialog unnatural. The flashbacked high school kids are uniformly unlikeable, save one. Who bows out early, because that's the homicide victim, sorry.

I noticed a few indications that even the copy editor's eyes glazed over. Example, on page 396: Kinsey's cop friend notes that his homicide investigation "takes precedence over any confidentially [sic] agreement" between Kinsey and her clients. Oh, well. Maybe my copy will be worth big money someday, like the Ben Hur, 1860, Third Edition, with the duplicated line on page one-sixteen.

But (nevertheless) I'll put my order in for Z is for Zealotry (or whatever) when it shows. If you're reading this, Ms. Grafton, could I suggest that Kinsey and Lew Archer team up? That would be neat.

URLs du Jour


■ Go home, Proverbs 21:14, you're drunk:

14 A gift given in secret soothes anger,
    and a bribe concealed in the cloak pacifies great wrath.

So… pro-bribery? You make the call. But I'd wager that this is another Proverb that Marco Rubio won't be tweeting anytime soon. (But his colleague, Senator Robert Menendez, might.)

■ Veronique de Rugy wonders, at Reason if there's any reason we can't have some fiscal sanity with the inevitable debt ceiling increase: Here He Comes to Save the Day! Mighty Mnuchin Is on His Way.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin claims he has been using his "superpowers" to keep the federal government from defaulting on its debt since April, when the federal debt hit the debt ceiling. This self-labeled superhero is trying to give lawmakers some time until they raise the debt limit, letting them continue to spend above their means. In reality, the superhero thing to do would be to persuade Congress to implement some fiscally responsible reforms that would get us out of the mess we're in, including the perpetual debate about the debt ceiling.

Instead, Mnuchin, with the rest of the administration, is asking for a "clean" debt ceiling increase. Because who could be against cleanliness?

■ Virginia Postrel's Bloomberg column floats an interesting idea: Give Harvey Victims a Choice: Rebuild or Relocate.

After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the Harvard economist Edward Glaeser made a provocative proposal: Instead of spending billions in federal dollars to rebuild the city, why not give the money to residents to rebuild their lives?

I have a deeply cynical answer: because that would have taken away politicians' power and redistributed it to people. Politicians could never allow that.

■ At Eater, Kelsey McKinney states an obvious truth: The Tater Tot Is American Ingenuity at Its Finest. But there's also history of which you may be unaware. For example, the debut at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami, engineered by Nephi Gregg, co-owner of the Ore-Ida company:

This was Nephi’s stage, his grand debut. Two stories below the dining room where all of the members of the 1954 National Potato Convention were sidling up to tables, talking shop, hungry for breakfast, Nephi was bargaining with the head chef. In his bag he had carried 15 pounds of his new creation all the way from Oregon, and he wanted them cooked and served. What better test audience than a group of potato men? After some bribing, the chef agreed. The innovation was cooked, placed in small saucers, and distributed on the tables as samples.

“These were all gobbled up faster than a dead cat could wag its tail,” Nephi Grigg would write 35 years later. The golden potatoes had been cut into bite-sized pieces and fried, and they were a hit. Tater Tots were born.

A quibble: dead cats can not wag their tails very fast.

■ Pun Salad is a sucker for those state-comparison articles, especially the ones that show New Hampshire at one extreme or the other. So, here you go with The States With the Worst Drivers. Key finding for us:

  • The best drivers are in New England – Four of the five states at the bottom of the list (i.e. the states with the best drivers) are New England states. These are Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
You may quibble with the methodology. Especially since they have Massachusetts as the state with safest drivers; this does not comport with my historical experience.

■ Finally, James Lileks writes About a Dog. The story lacks a happy ending. I would imagine all dog-owners will relate.