Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton – Reading Women 2019

This post is part of a series on reading women 2019 hosted by Lonely Cryptid Media’s Narrative Designer, Dan Michael Fielding.

Okay. It’s time to come clean.

I didn’t actually finish this book.

Kinsey Millhone is a detective investigating the resurgence of a video recording of a sexual assault that took place in 1979. The video went missing shortly after it was recorded, and the person suspected of hiding it was murdered.

In the book, this video and subsequent murder rocks the lives of affluent teenagers, and the ripple effects are still felt today. Detective Millhone has to deal with wealthy parents, adults who still act like kids, and kids who too quickly had to become grown up. All this while dealing with the book’s B-plot: a sociopath[1] who is out to torture and kill Millhone. This sociopath was the main villain in the previous installment of the series, and so Millhone is being haunted by “yesterday” in two ways.

I began this leg of the challenge hoping to read a book in a genre I had never read before. In the end, I did read parts of a book in a new genre. But it just wasn’t for me.

Have you ever had a book you just couldn’t finish reading?

Two main problems worked against the book, for me. First, it was incredibly repetitive. Grafton intercuts the present-day action with flashbacks to 1979. These flashbacks are often incredibly well written and show the depths of messed up these people were as teenagers. But, everything we as readers learn in a flashback also has to be learned by Millhone. This often means slogging through pages of Millhone doing her detective work only to discovery what we already know. In this case I think the flashbacks worked against my ability to enter the narrative.

Second, I just did not care about the rich teenagers (now adults) and their problems. And it was clear Millhone didn’t care, either. As a detective she was only interested in the case because of the large paychecks that accompanied it. And later when those paychecks were threatened (because rich people are jerks) her motivations for continuing to investigate felt very flat. I just didn’t understand why Millhone, as the protagonist, actually cared about investigating this mystery, and so I had difficulty caring as well.

Several things worked for Grafton in Y is for Yesterday, however. There is a scene midway through the book where the murder out to kill Millhone has her trapped, and the tension in the scene is great and visceral.

In general there may be a lot of genre conventions that I simply didn’t “get” but that a more thoroughly read detective-fan would enjoy.

I put off writing this review because I was never able to muster the energy to finish the last 100 pages of the book. That delay also put a hold on the reading challenge in general, and I’m now sorely behind. In a way I’m being haunted by my own “yesterday.” But! I’m committed to catching up on the challenge, so stay tuned for more reviews as we continue to work our way through the prompts.

[1] I have major problems with this phrasing, but that’s how he is referred to in the book.

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