Sue Grafton’s Y Is for Yesterday

Twenty-five down; one to go. Sue Grafton’s alphabet mysteries have gained steam and followers over the years. With Y Is for Yesterday, she nears the end of that long journey and, while witnessing that accomplishment is truly exciting, once Z Is for (Zebra, Zoology, Zero?) is published, what will her longtime fans do? How can we not look forward to another adventure with Santa Teresa’s intrepid P.I. Kinsey Millhone?

So we savor this volume, and it’s a doozy. Not only do we get to spend time with Kinsey and her landlord, the 89 year-old Henry Pitts, who never seems to slow down, but with the cast of characters that Kinsey surrounds herself with. There’s Henry’s older brother, William, married to the irascible Rosie, who runs a “Hungarian dive” blocks from Kinsey’s apartment. Since Kinsey hates to cook, she winds up dining at Rosie’s several times a week, consuming whatever mysterious concoction Rosie is serving that evening and drinking vinegar-like white wine. It all seems cozy and comforting.

As the series progressed, Grafton made the decision to keep Kinsey stuck in the 1980s. That means no Internet, cellphones, twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Kinsey continues to type up her reports on her Smith Corona and depends upon an answering machine to collect her messages. Simpler times, indeed.

Y Is for Yesterday begins in January 1979 with the theft of test answers at a high school. The thief is Iris, a free spirit with hippie parents. A fish out of water, Iris bristles at the up tight atmosphere at Climping Academy. But even outcasts need friends, and Iris decides to help Poppy, who tries to compete with her two older very successful sisters. When it looks like Poppy will have trouble passing the Benchmark California Proficiency Examination, Iris decides to steal the answers to help her friend. Ten years later, the fallout from that action becomes Kinsey’s next case.

Grafton tells the story by see-sawing between the earlier events and Kinsey’s investigation. She’s such a skilled storyteller that the plot never loses momentum and is never confusing. In addition to the case, Kinsey is trying to keep one step ahead of a felon, Ned Lowe, who has her in his crosshairs. She barely escaped with her life in their last encounter and she knows he wants to return to finish the job.

As with so many of Grafton’s mysteries, getting there is half the fun. Kinsey is not Wonder Woman. She can take care of herself, but she’s also vulnerable. Fortunately, she’s able to enlist others who have her back, even the 89 year-old Henry. This time around, though, Henry must also contend with a homeless couple, Pearl and Lucky, who are camping out in his backyard,  as well as his cat, Ed, who keeps disappearing.

Will Grafton launch another series after this one ends? If not, I plan to go back to A is for Alibi and work my way through the alphabet for a second time.

Y Is for Yesterday
Sue Grafton

Top photo: Bigstock

About Charlene Giannetti (810 Articles)
Charlene Giannetti, editor of Woman Around Town, is the recipient of seven awards from the New York Press Club for articles that have appeared on the website. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Charlene began her career working for a newspaper in Pennsylvania, then wrote for several publications in Washington covering environment and energy policy. In New York, she was an editor at Business Week magazine and her articles have appeared in many newspapers and magazines including the New York Times. She is the author of 12 non-fiction books, eight for parents of young adolescents written with Margaret Sagarese, including "The Roller-Coaster Years," "Cliques," and "Boy Crazy." She and Margaret have been keynote speakers at many events and have appeared on the Today Show, CBS Morning, FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and many others. Her new book, "The Plantations of Virginia," written with Jai Williams, was published by Globe Pequot Press in February, 2017. Charlene divides her time between homes in Manhattan and Alexandria, Virginia.