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by Sue Grafton
G. P.Putnam's Sons, October 2002
385 pages
ISBN: 0399149155

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In spite of the fact that her series is of necessity uneven, I still consider Sue Grafton one of the architects of the modern era of crime fiction. She along with Marcia Muller and Sara Paretsky really created a sub-genre and if sometimes their work seems a bit trite it may be because so many lesser authors have tried to follow in their footsteps.

I thought this was an excellent novel. Kinsey Milhone is at loose ends having moved into a new office and having no cases that particularly interest her. A former nemesis, Lt. Con Dolan of the police department, appears on her doorstep. Dolan has had several heart attacks and is now on medical leave perhaps never to return to full duty. He tells her of his friend and mentor Stacey Oliphant of the Sheriffıs Department whose cancer has apparently returned. He is apparently dying. Dolan wants to keep him interested and involved in life while the chemotherapy does its work, so he considers an eighteen year old major case he investigated, that of a Jane Doe dumped into an area close to the road. In spite of very distinctive dental work, the Jane Doe has never been identified. Dolan proposes that Kinsey, he, and Stacey reopen the case. Ironically enough Stacey agrees because he believes it will get Dolan's attention and rouse him out of his depression.

The three study all the original evidence that the sheriffıs department has collected and examine the murder book carefully. They find some loose ends and some possibilities that could be followed up. The pursuit takes them into the desert in eastern California and through another heart attack for Dolan.

In the process we meet an intriguing collection of bizarre, eccentric, and singular characters. They people the land where few want to live. They dwell in double wides and cabins and work as waitresses in tiny diners, repair cars, and somehow survive if not prosper. Some live on the fringes of the law and some are habitual dwellers in jails around the state. All of them are memorable, well-drawn, and authentic.

The sense of place is outstanding. Grafton describes the desert land so that it come alive, and the reader can see the bleakness, the barrenness, the endless horizon, and the poverty of this land. And yet it is peopled by all sorts of creatures, from scorpions to coyotes to people who, for some reason, have chosen to live here. I have driven through barren parts of the Southwest and I felt the descriptions were precise and faithful to this part of the country. There is little there for humans and yet somehow they create homes and hope.

These events forced Kinsey, the loner, to work with others. Much as she hates partners, she actually enjoys teaming up with these two older men. Sometimes she has to make compromises but she learns to genuinely care for them. When we open our hearts to friends, we make ourselves more vulnerable and Kinsey knows this.

At the same time she is also faced with her motherıs family and the need to make some decisions about just how far she wants to go to welcome them into her solitary and, up until now, quite satisfactory life.

The trail of the victim, the solutions to many mysteries, the setting, and people all combine to make this a thoroughly fascinating story, one which makes Kinseyıs life more unprotected and yet more believable. I think the Master still tells a very fine story.

Reviewed by Sally A. Fellows, January 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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