“L” is for Lawless by Sue Grafton

Grafton, Sue. “L” is for Lawless  (1995) 
Holt, 290 pages, $24.00 hardcover
ISBN  0-8050-1937-5

Many critics called “K” is for Killer Grafton’s darkest, most disturbing novel.  Grafton herself may have felt the same way, because  “L” is for Lawless seems to be a concerted attempt at humor.

The novel opens in comical circumstances:  Henry Pitts, Kinsey’s landlord, and his four siblings, whose ages range from Henry’s 85 to Charlie’s 93, are preparing for the wedding of older brother William to Rosie (age 70), owner of the neighborhood tavern.  “With William pushing eighty-eight, the phrase `until death do us part’ was statistically more significant for them than for most.”  The four Pitts brothers, collectively known as “the boys,” and sister Nell provide a humorous picture of long-term sibling rivalry.

Amidst the wedding preparations, Henry asks Kinsey—who’s scheduled to be a bridesmaid—if she’d mind helping out a neighborhood family having trouble collecting death benefits from the Veterans Administration.  It’s her involvement with this family that initiates the cross-country chase of the book’s mystery, but not before Kinsey has a chance to showcase her wit:

Somehow in my profession I seem to spend a lot of time in kitchens looking on while men make sandwiches, and I can state categorically, they do it better than women. Men are fearless. They have no interest in nutrition and seldom study the list of chemicals provided on the package. I’ve never seen a man cut the crusts off the bread or worry about the aesthetics of the “presentation.” Forget the sprig of parsley and the radish rosette. With men, it’s strictly a grunt-and-munch operation. (p. 36)

As a child I was raised with the same kind of white bread . . . you could roll it into little pellets and flick them across the table at your aunt when she wasn’t looking. If one of these bread boogers landed in her hair, she would slap at it, irritated, thinking it was a fly. (pp. 36-37)

Another lighter touch in this novel is that the mystery doesn’t involve a murder, although Kinsey ends up in some dangerous situations during her Bonnie-and-Clyde trip across country. The humor does diminish about midway through the book when the chase’s high stakes become obvious.  Nonetheless, Kinsey manages to keep her wits—and her wit—about her:

Now you see? This is the beauty of keeping up those skills. In a crisis situation, I had only to open my mouth and a fib flopped out. An unpracticed liar can’t always rise to the occasion like I can. (p. 110)

During her escapades Kinsey has time to think about family—her own, the Pitts’s, the father-daughter-grandmother trio she ends up with in Louisville.  Like ancient comedies, the novel ends with the marriage of William and Rosie, and with Kinsey reunited with the family she belongs with.

© 1997 by Mary Daniels Brown

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