Living in the 1980s with Kinsey

the book:

T is for Trespass by Sue Grafton

published 2007   chapter 10, set in 1987

Solana checked her reflection in the rearview mirror. She was wearing her new glasses, a cheap pair she’d found that were a close match to the glasses on the Other’s driver’s license. With her hair dyed dark, the resemblance between them was passable. Her own face was thinner, but she wasn’t worried about that. Anyone comparing her face to the photo would simply think she’d lost weight. The dress she’d chosen for the occasion was a crisply ironed cotton that made a comforting rustling sound when she walked. It wasn’t a uniform per se, but it had the same simple lines and it smelled of spray starch. The only jewelry she wore was a watch with big numbers on the face and a sweeping second hand. A watch like that implied a quick and professional attention to vital signs. She took out her compact and powdered her nose. She looked good. Her complexion was clear and she liked her hair in this new darker shade. She tucked her compact away, satisfied that she looked the part—faithful companion to the old. She got out of her car and locked it behind her, then crossed the street.

observations: There is something very unusual about Sue Grafton’s alphabet series. Many writers set books in the past, many get caught out by aging heroes, or set their series books in a vague ‘since the last one but also now’ time era. But PI heroine Kinsey Millhone was wholly contemporary when she started (A for Alibi, 1982), has stayed in the 1980s, and is now quaintly stuck without mobile phones and the Internet. Of course this makes a detective and her research more interesting, the reader doesn’t say impatiently ‘well why didn’t she just Google it? Phone him?’ And mostly Grafton resists the temptation to be knowing about this – though in T there is a mention of the future of computers. And Kinsey gets a pedometer and tries to do 10,000 steps a day - surely not in 1987?

One complaint – this English version of the book seems to have had some random changes made for the UK market, completely unnecessarily and making it read oddly.

Grafton is very specific about what people are wearing – as was
this author last week, and again we have ended up with a constructed figure for the illo. The woman in the extract is truly horrible – this is not a spoiler – and the description of the way she goes about her activities is bone-chilling and terrifyingly convincing. It seemed unfair to use a photograph of a real person, and even the statue - in Joseph, Oregon - is too good for her.

Links up with: One of the anglicizations objected to is ‘knickers’ – see more discussion in
this entry. More women investigators here and here and here. A character in T is called Vronsky – the name of Anna Karenina’s lover.


  1. I like the Sue Grafton series and I've read it for years. It took me a while to cotton on that the timescale wasn't catching up with real life. Interestingly though they don;t read like period pieces do they?
    Interesting what you say about the UK versions of the book - what did you notice that was strange?

  2. Moira - Oh, you've spotlighted a terrific author! I really do like the way Grafton has kept the series true if you will to the '80's. Not easy to do! And of course I like Kinsey Millhone's character, too.

    I'm actually curious, too: what were the inconsistencies you noticed in the UK version of the novel?

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  4. Thanks for your comments! I'll probably find that these were in the original US edition and it's me wrong, but: Kinsey talks about finding someone 'on the john with his knickers down around his knees', a character asks for the loo, and people drive round in vans - when I lived in the US, no-one used those terms. When I worked for an American magazine I had to watch what I said for introducing anglicizations, so I am probably over-precious about it. And of course I may be wrong - would love someone to check. (With me, if I'm talking about an adaptation of a favourite book, there's always something that I'm most disapproving of, saying it's out of character etc, and often it turns out to be a direct quote from the original, to my shame!)

  5. That sounds like they haven't even gotten the changes right for the UK market - as no one would say knickers for a guy - knickers are worn by women only :)

    I agree that the ageing of this character series is a bit odd - I think the writing process must be different for her now from what it was in the beginning - now she would have to do a lot more research about brand names, locations and things whereas when she started she could have just looked out the front door :) But there is something quite comforting about Kinsey and her index cards :)

  6. Yes exactly Bernadette, I agre with all you say, and yes the phrase jumped off the page for me for that reason.

  7. I know I am a half a year late, but I linked to this from your Work for a Million post. I loved what you said about not liking the changes in the book for the UK market. I hate it when they do that in the US, to books from the UK. I bought all of my Harry Potter books in UK editions because I wanted the original text. (And the covers are much nicer too.)

  8. Thanks TracyK - yes exactly! It shows no respect for the reader, does it - we can all cope with a few simple language differences, and it actually adds to the atmosphere....


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