RARA-AVIS: O is for . . . Osprey?

Frederick Zackel (fzackel@wcnet.org)
Mon, 14 Jun 1999 09:03:47 -0400

Just about a year ago Sue Grafton was interviewed in Publishers Weekly. She said she started writing PI books by fantasizing what she would be like as a PI. My favorite quote from the interview was that "Fantasy is the great equalizer." Which I think is a key phrase to understanding what the new breed of lady dicks are doing in the genre. They are using the PI mythology, deconstructing it for all your academics, and reconstructing the fantasy in terms of gender equality. The lady dicks, I think, are about as successful as most male writers. That is, too many are formulaic fantasy; daydreaming about walking down mean streets they never would be found dead in (bad sick joke.) Some however are very good at what they are doing.

I think Grafton used to be much better. Her early books were carefully crafted PI books with relatively solid plots. Her later books have attempted to move beyond the Grafton formula. (For example, 99% of K is for Killer takes place during the night. L is for Lawless is her homage to Elmore Leonard's crime fiction. How successful she is can be debated.) But her last couple of books--which even her fans might agree upon--were much weaker, certainly the weakest in her series. Kinsey Milhone is SUPPOSED to be an ex-cop, but in N is for Noose the woman in the dark cabin who gets attacked may have the same name but certainly has none of the abilities one would come to expect from an ex-cop. She acts "out of character" not just for any PI, but also for the abilities the detective had before.

I contend that Grafton has lost (misplaced?) that fantasy connection because of all her successes. Will she regain it? Well, she has another book due this fall. O is for Octopus? for Octagon?

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