As ever more implausibly ghoulish serial killers flay, chainsaw, and cannibalize their way through contemporary crime lit, the creepiest villain to amble along in recent months is a drab middle-aged nurse named Solana Rojas. The wily evildoer in T Is for Trespass, Sue Grafton’s 20th Kinsey Millhone mystery, Solana is loathsome precisely because she’s not a bloodthirsty monster. Instead, she’s a garden-variety sociopath, a nondescript woman in crepe-soled shoes you might cross paths with while shopping at Target. Or, if you’re spectacularly unlucky, hire to take care of your vulnerable, aging loved one.
T Is for Trespass begins just a few months after hardworking private investigator Kinsey has wrapped up her last big case. (See S Is for Silence.) The year is 1987, Kinsey is 37, romantically unattached once again (to quote Kinsey: ”Oh, dang”), and trying to cut back on the Quarter Pounders. Sardonic and plainspoken as ever, she’s handling the usual roster of slightly tawdry, two-bit cases. An attorney wants her to investigate a suspicious fender bender. A landlord has hired her to evict some deadbeat tenants. Then there’s the pro forma background check on Solana Rojas, who has applied for a job caring for Kinsey’s infirm elderly neighbor, Gus. Needless to say, each of these chores turns out to be more intriguing than it initially appears, particularly the matter of Ms. Rojas.
Watching a crime story quietly emerge from Kinsey’s routine is one of the reliable joys of reading Grafton, and a key to her enduring appeal. Rather than nervously clobbering you with gore from the get-go, Grafton first eases us into Kinsey’s placid, and by now thoroughly familiar, daily grind: the three-mile morning jog through the streets of fictional Santa Teresa, Calif., followed by the ho-hum surveillance gigs of the small-time gumshoe, and, later, to unwind, the evening glass of Chardonnay and palaver with her octogenarian best friend, Henry. When the narrative eventually takes a turn for the thrilling (and bloody), you’re both solidly grounded and hooked.
And what goes on behind the closed doors of Gus’ modest home, amid the dust motes, grimy antiques, and sickbed smells, turns out to be more deeply disquieting than anything Thomas Harris ever staged in one of his charnel houses. Grafton describes a consensual sex act on Gus’ floral couch that is so sad, sordid, and alas, believable you will wish you could unread it. As this master of suspense continues to demonstrate in superb mystery after mystery, there are more ugly twists in the human heart than there are letters in the alphabet. A-