“Y is for Yesterday” is the penultimate novel in Sue Grafton’s alphabet series about California private investigator Kinsey Millhone. If the series ends with “Z” — and there’s no reason to believe that it won’t be the finale — it’s going out with even deeper plots and more intense characterizations than when it debuted 35 years ago. Despite clocking in at 496 pages, “Y is for Yesterday” briskly moves Kinsey’s story forward.
Set in 1989, the theme of this 25th outing with Kinsey could, with a few variations, be set in 2017, with bullies, sex tapes, a cheating scandal and a sense of entitlement among high school students. “Y is for Yesterday” revolves around the murder of a high school senior by a classmate who was egged on by another student. That incident happened in 1979, but that decade-old crime seems like it happened yesterday to those who were involved, all of whom have been marked by the tragedy.
Kinsey is hired by the parents of Fritz McCabe, newly released from prison for shooting classmate Sloan Stevens when he was 15. Because of his age, California law requires that Fritz be released. He receives a demand for $25,000, with the threat that a 10-year-old tape showing Fritz and another student sexually abusing a drunken freshman will be released to police if the demand isn’t paid. Kinsey’s investigation follows the lives of those who attended a tony private high school and who were, in one way or another, involved in the shooting and the making of the tape. As Kinsey says, her case has everything: “Youth, sex, money, betrayal.”
She is also worried that serial killer Ned Lowe is still at large and has targeted her as his next victim.
Grafton skillfully delves into the psyche of this band of friends, many of whom peaked in high school, showing how the acts of teenagers affect their lives as adults.
Kinsey is still the same single and cranky private detective she always has been. But Grafton has allowed her to grow. She’s opened up to relatives she didn’t know she had. She still is close to her landlord, Henry, who also is her surrogate father. And “Y is for Yesterday” finds Kinsey embracing — almost — a cat and a dog. (It’s a start.)
When “Z” comes out in 2019, Kinsey will be approaching her 40th birthday, and Grafton drops a few hints about what might await her. Meanwhile, savor “Y is for Yesterday.”
‘Y is for Yesterday’ by Sue Grafton, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 496 pages, $29.