“P” Is for Peril by Sue Grafton

Grafton,Sue. “P” Is for Peril (2001)  
Putnam, 352 pages, $26.95 hardcover 
ISBN 0399147195

Dr. Dowan Purcell has been missing for nine weeks by the time his ex-wife, Fiona, hires Kinsey to find him. The 69-year-old doctor, a respected member of the local medical community, is director of a nursing home. He’s now married to a much younger wife, Crystal, with whom he has a 2-year-old son. Fiona thinks Purcell might have deliberately disappeared. Crystal thinks he must be dead. Kinsey doesn’t think she’ll find out much that the cops haven’t already discovered in nine weeks, but she agrees to look into the disappearance despite her instinctive dislike of the austere Fiona.

Kinsey soon learns that Dr. Purcell’s nursing home is being investigated for Medicare fraud. But beyond this there doesn’t seem to be much information about the doctor. In the meantime, Kinsey looks for new office space to rent and is excited to find what she thinks is the perfect place.

Sue Grafton is somewhat off in her latest alphabet mystery. The first problem is the pacing. Kinsey spends an awful lot of time learning virtually nothing about Purcell’s disappearance; I kept waiting for something—anything—to happen. 

A second problem is the subplot of Kinsey’s relationship with the landlords of her newly rented office space. Grafton usually makes her subplots relate somehow to the main plot, but there’s no such connection between the two elements in “P” Is for Peril. And the subplot is never adequately resolved. (After the scene in the Hevner garage, would one of the brothers simply get into his car and drive off without doing anything about Kinsey?) Further, the subplot probably would have made a more interesting main plot than the story of Dr. Purcell turns out to be.

The third problem with this novel is its dénouement, which reveals the killer but fails to answer a lot of questions about the crime. Exactly how was the murder committed? Did one of the minor characters help out, as certain incidents suggest? Also, the apparent motivation for the crime comes out of nowhere and, without adequate preparation, is not at all convincing. Sue Grafton usually ties all the story’s loose ends up in a way that explains them all and brings closure to the various characters and events. But in this novel she simply stops.

One challenge of writing a continuing series is adding the nuances necessary to keep the recurrent character fresh for readers. At the end of “O” Is for Outlaw Grafton introduced a kinder, gentler Kinsey, but there is no trace of that persona in this next installment. Nonetheless, devotees of Kinsey Millhone will be glad of another chance to spend some time with her.

© 2001 by Mary Daniels Brown

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