Tim D. Sherer reviews
I got "Q is for Quarry" in February
and read it in a day.
I started The Brothers Karamazov in July and read it over seven months.
I was disappointed with both books for the same reason.
Catch and release
In The Brothers Karamazov, we meet Dmitri Fyodorovich Karamazov, eldest son of old Fyodor Karamazov. Dmitri is accused of killing his father for three thousand rubles to pay off a loan to his former girlfriend and take his current girlfriend partying. Considered by many to be the greatest novel ever written, the first 60 to 80 chapters are riveting, including long philosophical discussions of the meaning of the human soul, sexual orgies, a lesbian make-out scene and cat fight, and things that would have been controversial in Russian in the 1800s, like orthodoxy, atheism, and socialism.
Where the novel let me down was where Dostoevsky let Dmitri off the hook. After going to the trouble of making him a very credible suspect in the murder of his father, the narrator next makes it clear that Dmitri is innocent. He came all the way up to his father's room to try and steal money and possibly kill the old man, but then doesn't. Then the narrator gives us pretty good proof that this is true, after keeping us out of the murder scene, where we would have seen for ourselves.
Ok, I'm not bloodthirsty. Wrongly convicted is good. Proven innocent could work. Instead, he is found guilty and his girlfriend bribes a guy to let him go on the way to the labor camp so he can whine about how terrible it is to have to move to America.
Catch and release.
Which brings me to Hard-Boiled Kinsey Millhone. She's hanging out in her office when Hard-Boiled Con Doland comes around. You remember Con, the Homicide detective (well, Crimes Against Persons Department, if I remember right from the earlier books). After a series of heart attacks, he's semi-retired and consumed with guilt over the cancer death of his wife and his inability to help her. In penance, he turns to helping his old police pal Stacie, who is currently dying of cancer and cleaning out his apartment so no one else will have to be left with the mess when he kicks it. He and Con came across one old case they want to nail down before he dies.
A body found in a quarry near Lompoc. (Yes, Lompoc.) She was murdered and dumped off the road in 1969 with no ID. No one could identify her or her killer.
Having a soft spot for Hard-Boiled old cops, Kinsey Millhone agrees to help the two curmudgeons follow up leads in hope of finding the identity of the girl and possibly her killer. As they get started, Stacie is in relentless pain and Con is drunker by the minute. They're both on borrowed time as Kinsey walks us through the police procedural, including reexamining the clothing found at the scene, checking over Jane's dental work, and re-interviewing old witnesses.
But we know what Lompoc is to Kinsey - the town her mother, Rita, is from. The town where her grandmother, Grand, still lives, along with the whole family that distanced themselves from Rita Kinsey for marrying a letter carrier. Only, as we run into the carefully made-up cousin Tasha and her lovely, down-to-earth mother, Aunt Suzanne, it turns out that everybody in the family loved Rita the best and didn't really object to Kinsey's father, just to Rita throwing away such a wonderful life. Grand wanted to make things right and wants to still and Grafton has pretty much let Kinsey and us off the hook.
Catch and release.
Kinsey is on the verge of visiting Grand and giving her a big, sweet, wet Grushenka kiss (Karamazov Brothers, again), but there's still a plaintive Jane Doe out there, still unnamed and unavenged. Con and Stacie want to bring her home. When Stacie has to go back to the hospital for a recurrence of his cancer, Kinsey and Con Doland hit the road to a small town near the Arizona border where the clues have led them. After a couple of days of dogged detective work, Kinsey comes back to the hotel after following leads on her own to find Con Dolan dead of a heart attack.
Actually, no. She got there in time to call an ambulance, but he was still nearly dead in the hospital, leaving Kinsey alone to strike out after the killer, pushing ahead to bring this one lost girl home and give both Con and Stacie a measure of peace at the end of their lives.
Actually, no. Stacie is fine. His cancer is in remission. He just pulled his back and now he's on his way over to help out, just in time to find out Con Doland is fine. They put a stint in his heart, just like Fyodor Karamazov - er - Dick Cheney, and he'll be out the hospital in a couple of days. He and Stacie are going to move in together to keep each other company and be lovable old codger cops.
Catch and release.
Did I forget about Jane Doe again?
In detective fiction, there's usually a moment when the detective gets personally involved with the case. Sam Spade's partner gets killed and maybe he falls in love. The Continental Op looks like he murdered a woman while strung out on drugs in Red Harvest. The fat girl in Sugar Shack realizes she has an eating disorder, just like her Jane Doe. It's the difference between American Hard-Boiled detectives and British Armchair detectives. Kinsey's connection is through Con and Stacie and since they're off the hook, she's never on it.
Catch and release.
So, who was Jane Doe and who killed her and why? It's not anticlimactic, but when we do find her in the small towns of southeastern California, we don't find out how she got there or anything else about her. She's slipped in like a changeling, never to be missed.
A couple more things:
First, everybody smokes in this book, possibly to remind you that it takes place in 1987.
Second, there is a cool moment when Kinsey figures out where a body was dumped.
Third, Henry's got a new girlfriend and Rosie is cooking entrails. But don't worry. Nothing bad will happen to them.
It's all catch and release in this pond.
I give Q is for Quarry:
THREE OUT OF FIVE HARD-BOILED DETECTIVES
I give The Brothers Karamazov:
FOUR OUT OF FIVE DOOMED RUSSIAN SOULS YEARNING FOR REDEMPTION
Tim D. Sherer