“N” Is for Noose, by Sue Grafton, was published in 1998.
“For the record, my last name is Millhone, first name Kinsey. I’m female, twice divorced, seven weeks shy of thirty-six, and reasonably fit. I’m a licensed private detective, currently residing in Santa Teresa, California, to which I’m attached like a tetherball on a very short cord. Occasionally, business will swing me out to other parts of the country, but I’m basically a small-town shamus and likely to remain so for life.“
(Kinsey Millhone was born in 1950, so that sets this story in 1986.)
Kinsey is caring for her friend, former bodyguard, and occasional love interest, Robert Dietz, before and after his knee surgery. (I loved this part: While Dietz is in the hospital, Kinsey actively snoops through his condominium, just for the fun of it. She doesn’t feel guilty about it, because she knows without a doubt that he’s snooped through her apartment. They have a special relationship.) Kinsey stays with Dietz, helping him recover, for as long as she can stand being around him, then she leaves.
Dietz has a client named Selma Newquist, who lives in the small town of Nota Lake, California. He’s unable to continue the case, because of his surgery, so Kinsey takes over for him.
There was nothing suspicious about the recent death of Selma’s husband, Tom. He was out on the road and apparently felt a heart attack coming on. He’d pulled over to the side of the road, put the emergency flashers on, and died. His body was found by a friend in the California Highway Patrol. Tom was a detective with the county sheriff’s office. Before he died, Tom had been troubled by something he wouldn’t share with Selma. That’s why Selma had hired Robert Dietz: To find out what had been troubling Tom.
Kinsey doesn’t want to take the case. She doesn’t understand what Selma wants her to do. It doesn’t seem like much of a case. But Kinsey doesn’t tell Selma that. She takes the case for Dietz’s sake.
Nota Lake is close to Dietz’s hometown of Carson City, Nevada, but a six-hour drive from Santa Teresa. So, Selma arranges a cabin for Kinsey in Nota Lake Cabins, owned and operated by Tom’s widowed sister. It’s too rustic for Kinsey’s city-girl taste, but since Selma’s paying for it, she won’t complain.
All Kinsey Millhone has to do is figure out what Tom Newquist had been doing during the last weeks of his life. She feels like she’s needlessly taking money that Tom had worked hard to earn.
Kinsey learns, through interviews with several Nota Lake citizens, that Tom Newquist was a respected man, a church-goer, a nice guy, and friendly but a little distant. The only negative things that Kinsey hears are about Selma.
While sorting through Tom’s disorganized desk, searching desperately for clues, Kinsey examines the blotter on his desk. There are case numbers, phone numbers, and doodles all over it, including several doodles of a noose.
Then Kinsey Millhone is attacked.
Kinsey Millhone is, as always, a competent P.I. (Although Selma Newquist might disagree.) She works hard as a detective, using payphones, index cards, and a typewriter as her tools.
The thing I enjoy about this series is that it hasn’t, so far, followed a formula. The book I read before this one, “R” Is for Ricochet, was as much a romance as it was a mystery, while this one sets Kinsey Millhone in an unfamiliar setting, showing her weaknesses, feeling alone and vulnerable.
As for my theory that the letter of the book will be the same as the first letter of the main family name: Newquist begins with “N”, and so does Nota Lake.
I loved this book.