I\’m curled up reading one of the books I got at the recent library sale. Normally I approach any detective story only after putting my disbelief on the back burner but when one is reading a book published in the last twenty-five years by an author best known for writing \”friendly hard-boiled-ish\” stories rather than American cozies one doesn\’t expected that crucial suspension to be challenged within the first few pages and destroyed beyond repair before finishing the second chapter.
On the very first page of Sue Grafton\’s \”E\” is for Evidence we learn that Kinsey Millhone (the private detective whose point-of-view the reader shares) has just found out that five thousand dollars had been deposited into her bank account by someone unknown to her. Either it is an innocent error or someone wants to make it look as if she has deposited the money herself.
I immediately stop reading and check the copyright page to find out when the book was originally published. 1988. \’Hmmmmm,\’ I think, \’I wonder what five thousand 1988 American dollars would be worth today.\’ A few seconds later I have found an inflation chart. It would cost you almost 10,000 dollars today to purchase what 5,000 dollars would have bought back then. That is far more money than most people then would have made for several months work. The deposit was made through a night-deposit slot and almost no one used those or deposited that much money at one time except businesses. And businesses are unlikely to make a cash deposit both that large and a round number.
At this point I am ready for Millhone to call the police (to report \”found\” money and a possible attempt at money laundering) and the insurance company for which she is currently doing work investigating possible insurance fraud. Because a cash deposit that large looks to me (as it should to her) like either an attempt to bribe her or and attempt to make it look as if she has taken a bribe.
The willing suspension of my disbelief necessary to read the book is already being stretched. I have known people whose jobs were unmasking fraud and they are routinely suspicious of everything. I have trouble believing that Millhone merely phones the bank to report the error and then goes back to writing up a report to her insurance company/client of her current investigation into possible insurance fraud.
\’Chill out,\’ I tell myself, \’you have the advantage on her. You know that this is important because it is the first chapter of a murder mystery. You have that advantage over Millhone.\’
\’She supposed to be a private investigator,\’ myself grumbles back, \’she supposed to notice things like that.\”
I persuade myself to read further.
Back in the pages of the book, Millhone is thinking about the events that occurred between being assigned this case of possible insurance fraud and the present. A company has filed an insurance claim after a fire at one of their warehouses. Millhone has been sent out to investigate. The company president says, after meeting her, I hope you are not going to give me any static over that. Believe me, I\’m not asking for anything I\’m not entitled to.(15. Millhone tells the reader:
I made a noncommittal murmur or some sort, hopinp to conceal the fact that I\’d gone on \”fraud alert.\” Every insurance piker I\’d ever met said just that, right down to the pious little toss of the head. (15)
A mere four pages later Millhone leaves her handbag unattended in the office of the person who had set off her \”fraud alert\” while she is taken to the actual site of the fire. Yes, the man whose office it was disappeared from the scene after answering a telephone call and yes, she did remove her wallet and bring it with her. But she left her handbag behind. In one of the offices of the business she had been hired to investigate.
At this point myself is finding it difficult not to toss the book aside. Either Millhone is a bad detective or the author is \’getting things set up\’ by having her protagonist do something no moderately adequate fraud investigator would do. Either way, I find it difficult to care what happens for the rest of the book. And it is only page 19.
 Grafton, Sue. E\” is for evidence : a Kinsey Millhone mystery. New York: Holt, 1988.↩