“H” Is for Homicide, by Sue Grafton, was published in 1991.
I downloaded it from the King County Library System.
Private Investigator Kinsey Millhone has been bartering for office space with California Fidelity Insurance for six years. They provide her an office in exchange for investigating arson or wrongful death claims whenever they need it. Before becoming a PI, Kinsey was a California Fidelity employee.
California Fidelity is not doing well, financially. They’ve brought in an efficiency expert from Palm Springs, named Gordon Titus.
(I thought this took place in the next book, “I” Is for Innocent, but instead, that was a recap of this book. Oops. This is a down side of reading this series out of order.)
Kinsey Millhone is happy. She’s just finished up a three-week job for a San Diego company that paid her well to investigate one of their executives. After her investigation was over, the company even paid for an additional weekend stay in San Diego.
At 3:00 on Saturday morning, Kinsey wakes up feeling homesick, and decides to end her free weekend early. She drives back to Santa Teresa in her “new” used 1974 pale blue VW bug. (This is a reference to events in “G” Is for Gumshoe.)
After the five hour drive from San Diego to Santa Teresa, Kinsey stops by the California Fidelity offices to pick up some things. Strangely, the building’s parking lot is full of people. Some of those people are police officers.
There’s been a homicide.
Parnell Perkins had been a claims adjuster at California Fidelity for three months. He’d been shot at close range. Kinsey Millhone considered him a close friend.
The employees of California Fidelity are still dealing with the death of their coworker when the efficiency expert arrives ahead of schedule. Right away, he fires three people. Then he requests a meeting with Kinsey Millhone. Kinsey is puzzled, but not too worried. After all, she’s not an employee of California Fidelity.
The day before Kinsey’s meeting with Gordon Titus (CF employees secretly call him “Mr. Tight-Ass”), Claims Manager Vera Lipton hands Kinsey a file that Parnell Perkins had been working on before passing it on, for an unknown reason, to another claims adjuster. Vera suggests that if Kinsey can wrap it up, the office will look better on Gordon Titus’ report.
The file involves an automotive injury claim made by a woman named Bibianna Diaz. There are details of the claim that California Fidelity finds suspicious.
Kinsey considers staying out of the office for a few days, to postpone her meeting with Gordon Titus, but ultimately decides to show up for the meeting.
Despite Kinsey’s insistence that she’s an independent contractor, not a California Fidelity employee, Gordon Titus acts confused by her presence there. In the six years that she’s had an office in the company, Kinsey has never attended a single company meeting, and has never submitted a single 206 form (whatever that is). She doesn’t report to any one person. She’s given cases by whichever claims adjuster needs her help.
Gordon Titus asks for copies of Kinsey’s files, so the company can determine her rate of pay.
“I can tell you that. Thirty bucks an hour, plus expenses.“
“Less monies for the rental space, of course,” he said.
“In lieu of monies for the rental monies for the office space.“
Gordon Titus insists that that can’t be the case.
Finally, Kinsey has had enough of his “bureaucratic bullshit“, and tells him so. She has work to do, and doesn’t have time for this. Gordon Titus walks out of the meeting and goes directly to the Office Manager’s office.
Kinsey Millhone starts work on the Bibianna Diaz case. Right away, she discovers that the address Ms. Diaz gave California Fidelity is a vacant lot.
Kinsey continues investigating the case, even though it’s possible that Gordon Titus has already fired her.
Kinsey goes undercover in order to track down Bibianna Diaz. She puts on a genetic “work outfit” that an ex-con had sewn for her. She opens a locked briefcase that contains sets of fake IDs. Kinsey Millhone becomes a FTD delivery person named Hannah Moore.
(I’d never seen Kinsey go undercover before, aside from occasionally lying about her identity when questioning someone. It’s never even been hinted that she has these fake IDs. I’m not sure that I like this twist.)
Kinsey Millhone goes deep undercover as Hannah Moore to investigate Bibianna Diaz. She enters the nightclub scene of Santa Teresa. She works both against and with the police. She goes into the gang culture of southern California (as an outsider).
The case turns out to be more than a single incident of insurance fraud. And, yes, it’s tied into the killing of Parnell Perkins and at least one other homicide.
“H” Is for Homicide is a tense, well-written thriller. It’s not a mystery. Kinsey Millhone is told, early in the story, who murdered Parnell Perkins, and why. Another mystery does crop up later, but it’s incidental, and is quickly resolved.
I prefer the other stories in this series, in which Kinsey does actual detective work, to this one, in which she’s undercover in a crime ring, trying to find an opportunity to contact the police. I didn’t like the sudden introduction of Kinsey’s undercover equipment, which, so far, hasn’t been used before or since. But I did enjoy the book.
There’s a plot twist on the last page of the last chapter that I thought was awesome.
The book never mentions the year or Kinsey’s age.
The only person whose name begins with “H” is Hannah Moore, and that’s just an alias.
Neither Henry nor Rosie appear in this book.
Despite not actually being a “Kinsey Millhone Mystery,” I liked this book a lot.