“M” is for Malice by Sue Grafton

Grafton, Sue. “M” is for Malice (1996)
Henry Holt and Company, 300 pages, $25.00 hardcover  
ISBN 0 8050 3637 7

“M” is for melancholy, the mood in which we find Kinsey Millhone at the beginning of this book:

Ah, January. The holidays had left me feeling restless and the advent of the new year generated one of those lengthy internal discussions about the meaning of life. I usually don’t pay much attention to the passing of time, but this year, for some reason, I was taking a good hard look at myself. Who was I, really, in the scheme of things, and what did it all add up to?… For the last ten years, I’ve made a living as a private investigator. Some days I see myself (nobly, I’ll admit) battling against evil in the struggle for law and order. Other days, I concede that the dark forces are gaining ground. (p. 2)

However, things are not bad enough to wipe out Kinsey’s characteristic humor, as we see when she decides to scrub her office:  “My method of coping with depression is to take on chores so obnoxious and disgusting that reality seems pleasant by comparison” (p. 90).

But reality is not pleasant. When the patriarch of Malek Construction, one of the big three in California construction, dies, his family hires Kinsey Millhone to find Guy Malek, who disappeared eighteen years earlier. The remaining three Malek brothers are not eager to split the $40 million company a fourth way, but they must find Guy (or prove that he’s dead) to settle the estate.

Finding Guy Malek proves to be easy. When Kinsey tells him she’s been hired to locate him, Guy thinks that his family has finally come looking for him just because they want him back. Kinsey observes, “I was struck by the fact that his circumstances were oddly reminiscent of mine, both of us trying to assimilate fractured family connections.  At least he welcomed his, though he’d misunderstood the purpose of my visit” (p. 61).

The Malek brothers do not welcome the long-lost Guy back. As Kinsey digs under the surface of this fractured family’s dynamics, she continues to brood over the meaning of family and personal relationships. Her brooding deepens with the sudden return of Robert Deitz, a private investigator who has worked as her bodyguard and with whom she had a brief affair. A little over two years earlier Deitz left for Germany to run antiterrorist training exercises for overseas U.S. military bases.  Now Kinsey is miffed that he thinks he can just waltz back into her life:  “This time he didn’t ask if I was mad.  This was good because, in truth, I was furious.  Under the fury was the old familiar pain.  Why does everyone end up leaving me?  What did I ever do to them?” (p. 88). 

Eventually Kinsey and Deitz do reconnect: 

I looked away from him, thinking about the fearful risks of intimacy, the potential for loss, the tender pain implicit in any bond between two creatures—human or beast, what difference did it make? In me, the instinct for survival and the need for love had been at war for years. My caution was like a wall I’d built to keep me safe. But safety is an illusion and the danger of feeling too much is no worse than the danger of being numb. (pp. 108 109)

Kinsey has been wrestling with the meaning of family ever since she discovered her own long-lost relatives in “J” is for Judgment. In the epilogue of “M” is for Malice, Kinsey reaches closure when Guy Malek comes to her in a dream:

In the end, I set him free, not in sorrow, but in love. It wasn’t for me. It was something I did for him. When I woke, I knew that he was truly gone. The tears I wept for him then were the same tears I’d wept for everyone I’d ever loved. My parents, my aunt. I had never said good bye to them, either, but it was time to take care of it (p. 300)

© 1997 by Mary Daniels Brown

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