T is for Trespass by Sue Grafton (2007)
Kinsey Millhone’s twentieth mystery unfolds in the house next door: Gus Vronsky, a curmudgeonly, elderly neighbor, has injured himself and is in need of care. Since his only living relative is a niece on the East Coast, a nurse is hired to help Gus through his recovery at home. Kinsey is asked to do a quick background check on Solana, the new nurse, giving Gus’s niece the all-clear. Before long, Gus’s condition seems to worsen, and there is something strangely possessive about the way Solana treats him, as if simply asking about Gus or paying him an encouraging visit were an affront to her ability or professionalism.
Kinsey becomes convinced that Solana is up to something, but she doesn’t know what it is and can’t convince any of the interested parties (except her landlord Henry, of course). The reader knows, however, because for the second consecutive novel in the series, Sue Grafton employs intercalary chapters, told from Solana’s point of view, to provide background, motivation, and details about what Solana’s doing. The author gives the reader the answer to the mystery while the reader observes Kinsey’s attempts to figure out. It’s a different way to unwind a whodunnit, one that would seem to take some of the suspense out of the reading. But Kinsey is given enough action to keep it interesting, and as we root for Kinsey to succeed, we also root for Solana to stumble, and Gus, an otherwise unpleasant fellow, is turned into an object of the reader’s compassion.
As stories go, T is for Trespass is merely pretty good, but where most of the Kinsey mysteries focus on character development and on Kinsey’s problem-solving talents, this one is framed as a failure. Additionally, the author provides a prologue, in which the main character expounds for one short paragraph on how she has spent her professional career “trying to separate the wicked from that which profits them.” The setup seems to hint at a message the author has about evil, and Kinsey’s nemesis, a truly evil character passing herself off as an angel of mercy, is first characterized as being able to go through life with no real emotional attachment to anyone. The message seems to be that the people we need to be most wary of are not the ambitious, the unscrupulous, or the greedy, but those who are incapable of sympathy.
Not the most compelling in the series, this installment at least gives us more Henry than we’ve had in a long time, and that’s always a good thing. As we creep closer to the end of the alphabet, our precious time with these characters is running out, and I savor these remaining moments.