Posts Tagged ‘teenage murder’

Y IS FOR YESTERDAY by Sue Grafton: Book Review

Along with all the other readers of the Kinsey Millhone series, I approached Sue Grafton’s latest novel with both anticipation and despair.  The anticipation is obvious–I’ve been reading Ms. Grafton’s mysteries since A is for Alibi was published in 1982 and have enjoyed every one.  At that time it seemed inconceivable that the end of the alphabet would ever be reached; delusional thinking, I know.

Now comes the despair–Y is for Yesterday is, I imagine, the next-to-last book in the series.  I’m trying to think how Ms. Grafton can work around her self-imposed finale.  Could she start all over with A+ is for Adventure/Adultery/Absence?  It works for me; anything to read more about Kinsey Millhone.

When the book opens in 1989 (that’s present time in the series), Kinsey is approached by Lauren McCabe, whose son Fritz has just been released from prison.  Ten years earlier Fritz killed a teenage friend, Sloan Stevens.  The two were part of a group of high school students led by Austin Brown, who was both admired and feared by his classmates.  Austin had been the instigator of a “shunning” of Sloan for reasons that secretly benefited him.  Allegedly trying to patch things up, he invited her to a party at his family’s cabin.

She reluctantly agreed to go, although once she got there words were exchanged between the two of them.  Angry and upset, she started to walk away, but she was overtaken by Austin and three of his friends, driven to a remote area in the woods, and killed.  Although Austin’s gun was the murder weapon, it was Fritz who fired the shot.  Of the four boys implicated, one gave state’s evidence and avoided jail time, one was convicted of lesser charges and spent time in prison, Fritz spent ten years in jail and was automatically freed under California law at age twenty-five, and Austin Brown disappeared.

When Kinsey and Lauren meet, Lauren tells the detective about a package she received after Fritz’s return home.  It contained a tape of sexual acts committed by four boys, including Fritz, against Iris Lehmann, another member of the student group, who was obviously drunk and/or stoned at the time of the attack.  The tape was accompanied by a demand for $25,000 from the McCabes with the warning that unless it was paid, another copy would be sent to the police.  Even though Fritz had served time for Sloan’s murder, he still could be prosecuted for rape and sexual assault.

As always, Sue Grafton’s characters are wonderfully portrayed.  We meet Fritz, who was desperate to be a friend of Austin’s when they were in school together; Iris Lehmann, who now wants revenge on the boys who violated her and taped the assault for their own amusement; Troy, who spent years in prison for his involvement in Sloan’s death and since his release has been trying to atone for his part in the attack on Iris; and Lauren and Hollis McCabe, fearful that their son is headed down the wrong road again but with conflicting opinions on how to deal with it.

Y is for Yesterday shows the reader a more vulnerable, more cautious, Kinsey but still a woman determined to do her job.  Ms. Grafton’s other returning characters–Kinsey’s elderly landlord Henry; Rosie, the owner of the Hungarian restaurant down the block from Kinsey’s apartment; and Jonah Robb, a former lover of Kinsey’s who is still in an off-again-on-again marriage with a very jealous wife–are all present in Y is for Yesterday and the novel is richer for them.

Wait–here’s another thought.  The author could switch to another alphabet, since many other languages have more than 26 letters.  Tamil, for example has 247; if that seems too daunting, she could choose Hindi or Hungarian, each with 44!  If you know Ms. Grafton, please feel free to pass this post along to her.

You can read more about Sue Grafton at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.

DEFENDING JACOB by William Landay: Book Review

The Barber family could not be a more typical suburban family. The father is an attorney, the mother a former teacher, the son a fourteen-year-old middle school student.  They live near Boston, have friends, and a generally happy life.  And then the son is accused of murder.

William Landay, himself an attorney in Boston, tells a nail-biting story. Andy Barber is second-in-command in the Boston district attorney’s office and soon will probably be the head honcho.  Of course he and his wife are terribly upset when Ben, a classmate of their son Jacob, is knifed to death in a park on his way to school; after all, Jacob has known Ben since elementary school.  Andy takes over the case, dismissing the district attorney’s slight concerns over a possible conflict of interest.  Andy’s argument is that he, as the father of a fellow student at Ben’s school, has a greater interest in finding the murderer than any other assistant district attorney on the staff, an argument the district attorney reluctantly agrees to.

But then, several days later, Jacob is arrested and charged with the killing.

Of course Andy and his wife are outraged and disbelieving.  It’s true Jacob has had some problems, but they seem like typical adolescent ones–a kind of insolence, lack of respect, withdrawing into silence.  But isn’t that like all teenagers, they ask themselves?  However, the case against Jacob gets stronger with messages on Facebook and twitter.  Then Andy learns that Ben had been bullying Jacob over a period of time and that Jacob had told friends he’d take care of Ben.  But did he mean murder?

Andy has always considered himself an extremely fortunate man.  Married to the woman he fell in love with at first sight when they were both in college, living a comfortable life far different from the one he lived as a child, he seems to be sitting on top of the world.  However, Andy has a secret, one that he has never shared with anyone, even his wife. He comes from a violent family, and his father, whom he hasn’t seen in over forty years, is in prison for murder.

Andy is the book’s narrator.  He is a man who sees himself as strong, as a survivor, but inside him there is a well of fear.  Is it possible that there exists in his family a “murder gene,” something that has bypassed him but can be found in his son?

This is a story about more than a murder–it’s about a family being torn apart, being shunned by the community in which they have lived for years, of having former friends cross the street to avoid speaking to them.  Andy is put on paid leave from his job and Jacob is suspended from school.  And then comes the trial.

William Landay has written a powerful novel about the damage caused by keeping secrets, by ignoring signs of trouble, by pretending all is right when it isn’t. We are privy to Andy’s thoughts and actions, but not, I think, to his deepest feelings.  I wonder if even Andy allows himself to know his own secret thoughts and emotions; his control is so strong that I believe he thinks that if once he lets go he will cease to be the man he has made himself to be.  Behind the man’s strength is actually the vulnerability of the boy.

You can read read more about William Landay at his web site.