Author Sue Grafton proves once again that she is no slacker.
In her latest Kinsey Millhone mystery novel, titled "X," she pulls in details that obviously required considerable research and serious thinking to make it all work.
Grafton starts the book with Teddy Xanakis, who is a wealthy, recently betrayed and divorced woman, trying to steal a painting that's been ignored in the basement for years.
Now Teddy needs to keep it and its value from her ex-husband.
Meanwhile, Kinsey Millhone — who is asked to help by finding the whereabouts of a parolee who can help with the theft — is drawn into the drama through an elaborate ruse.
Kinsey is fooled and therefore endangered.
At about the same time, she's asked to find documents that will help a recently widowed friend keep out of trouble with the IRS. She starts unraveling a story about her former colleague, Pete Wolinsky, who never impressed her with his bookkeeping or his ethics.
As she does that, she discovers a coded list of names of people who seem to be on a hit list. That leads Kinsey to a sociopath, Ned Lowe, who has a string of wives who have either died, disappeared or lived with him in fear.
The man turns out to be a dark force who nearly kills Kinsey despite the fact that she's a skilled private investigator.
Ned is a troubled, mystery man who can turn on the charm at will. He's a menace who will probably return in one or both of the next two books in the series.
Kinsey is known for her independence, her quirks and her diligence, and she's the same in this novel. She is smart and tough.
In "X" she's working mostly unpaid. The "job" she is hired to do goes up in smoke and the favor she does for her friend leads her to more questions rather than answers.
Grafton's characters are real. Even the stalker has a sympathetic story behind his behavior. She develops relationships for her characters who live through childhood abandonment and high school and marital issues.
"X" has general descriptions of some kinky sex play involving choking. There is some generally described violence, including where Kinsey is nearly killed, and some characters are injured and die. There is some swearing throughout the novel.