“N” is for Noose by Sue Grafton

Grafton, Sue. “N” is for Noose (1998)  
Henry Holt and Company, 289 pages, $25.00  hardcover  
ISBN 0 8050 3650 4

Sue Grafton’s new novel finds Kinsey Millhone ready to leave Nevada after caring for Dietz, her off-again, on-again lover, for a couple of weeks after his knee-replacement operation. Dietz refers Kinsey for a job he can’t take on because of his surgery. On her way back home to Santa Teresa, Kinsey stops off in the small, isolated community of Nota Lake, California, to check out the job.

Tom Newquist, a deputy with the Nota Lake sheriff’s department, died of an apparent heart attack several weeks earlier. But his widow, Selma, thinks that Tom was acting distracted for a while before his death. Selma hires Kinsey to find out what was bothering Tom, just to clear up what she calls this “unfinished business.” When Kinsey begins asking questions, she quickly learns that everyone loved Tom, that nobody likes Selma, and that just about everybody thinks Tom was a saint for putting up with being married to Selma. Kinsey finds out just how efficiently the residents of a small community can circle the wagons to protect one of their own and to keep an outsider out. But when someone wearing a ski mask attacks and threatens her, Kinsey begins to believe Selma’s notion that Tom might have been harboring some secret. 

“N” is for Noose contains many of Grafton’s characteristic strengths. Her skill with telling details is evident in the picture of small-town life that she paints. And there is, of course, Kinsey’s usual brand of humor: after acknowledging that Dietz had searched her apartment while staying with her, Kinsey adds,  “Neither of us had ever mentioned his invasion of my privacy, but I vowed I’d do likewise when the opportunity arose. Between working detectives, this is known as professional courtesy. You toss my place and I’ll toss yours” (p. 5).

Unfortunately, though, this novel suffers by comparison with its predecessor, “M” is for Malice, which I think is the best of the Kinsey Millhone series. After “M,” anything short of perfection must fail to satisfy. What particularly bothers me about “N” is for Noose is the denouement, in which Kinsey must decipher some information that Tom has written in code in his notebook. The problem is that this piece of information is something that no one—not even the methodical, strictly-by-the-book Tom—would have written down; he would just have kept the information in his head until he had figured out what to do about it.

However, even a slightly less than perfect book by Sue Grafton is still a darn good book. Admirers of Sue Grafton and Kinsey Millhone won’t be disappointed by “N” is for Noose.

© 1998 by Mary Daniels Brown

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