Daisy Sullivan hires private detective Kinsey Milhone to find out what became of her mother, Violet Sullivan. Thirty-four years ago, she left her house to enjoy a fireworks show on July 4 and was never seen again. Daisy, left with baby-sitter Liza Mellincamp, was just seven at the time.
In a departure from her usual style, author Grafton alternates first-person accounts by Kinsey with flashbacks describing the actions of various characters in the days before and just after Violet's disappearance. Thus, the reader has facts that are not available to Kinsey as she pursues her investigation.
Liza worships Violet, and she stands up her best friend, Kathy Cramer to babysit that night. Kathy is the daughter of the local General Motors dealer, and owns one of the few television sets in Serena Station, CA, a poor working-class town.
Violet took her Pomeranian, Baby, with her as she drove off in the brand-new Chevrolet coupe her husband bought her only the day before. Foley Sullivan frequently beat his wife, and had recently torn her lace curtains – one of the few pleasant features of their slummy house – off the walls. The car was widely believed to be a gift to try to keep her from running away.
Kinsey interviews Kathy's father, Chet, who passes on the story of the car's purchase. In a flashback, we find that Chet is one of the many men who have slept with Violet. But the day after Foley buys her the car, she breaks off with Chet, who accuses her of simply trading sex for the car.
Kathy is married to Chet's sales manager, Winston Smith. Back in 1953, he was a barely competent salesman. He was fired because he allowed Violet to test drive the Chevrolet alone. She ran up more than 200 miles before returning it. After Foley buys the car, Winston is rehired.
In 1987, as Kinsey investigates Violet's disappearance, Foley is a handyman in a church, where he also lives. He has apparently given up drinking and violence, having learned his lesson when his wife left him.
Another of Violet's lovers is Jake Ottweiler, the father of Tannie Ottweiler, Kinsey's friend who introduced her to Daisy and got her into this investigation. The affair took place while Tannie's mother was in the hospital, dying of cancer. Jake, lonely and depressed, is drawn into the affair. When, overcome by guilt, he breaks it off, Violet goes to Mary Hairl Ottweiler's parents and tells them about the affair.
Then there's Tom Padgett, who has married a rich woman much older than him. He's building a construction business, but she won't put her money into the business. He's desperate, because the business won't survive without an infusion of cash.
Complicating the investigation is the fact that Violet is widely believed to have taken some $50,000 out of her safe deposit box before she disappeared. This would have been her stash if she decided to start a new life somewhere else. It could also have been a motive for murder.
Eventually, Kinsey finds the Chevrolet buried on the estate of Tannie's grandparents. A good deal of construction equipment was in the area, as a subdivision was going up nearby. Violet and her dog are dead inside the car. Having solved the mystery she was hired to solve, Kinsey must now try to find the murderer.
The review of this Book prepared by David Gordon
The latest of the series involving private eye Kinsey Milhone, that began with A is for Alibi. A friend hires her to investigate the disappearance of her mother in the fifties. The book is set in the 1980s. The author is not following a realistic time model. The woman who disappeared left a child and a husband, who is a depressive. She was known as the town tramp. Her marriage was abusive on both sides. Her one friend in the town was a teenager at the time who loved her and used to babysit the daughter (the friend who hired Milhone). The book is written in an unusual style for Grafton. It switches points of view from Milhone to different characters, as they were during the time of the disappearance. We learn that the woman purchased a new car and was about to leave town, that several men lusted after her, that women resented her. Milhone talks to many people in the small town, including the police officers who investigated the disappearance many years ago. Towards the end, the killer realizes he is in danger and comes after Milhone.
The review of this Book prepared by Fenella
Kinsey Millhone is a private investigator, the main character in Grafton's previous 18 books, starting with A is for Alibi...
In this book, she is asked to solve a mystery that is 34 years old!
Daisy Sullivan wants her to find out what happened to her mother, Violet. When Daisy was 7 years old, Violet left her with a babysitter, and went to the July 4 fireworks. But she never returned, and no one knows what happened to her.
Going back and forth from 1989 to 1953, we learn more about the Sullivan family and their friends and neighbours. Violet was either admired or scorned; everyone seemed to have an opinion. If she was murdered, there are enough people with motives. Or did she run away with a secret lover? She was a beautiful woman, and did go out with other guys; she and her husband had a pretty stormy relationship. But it's a small town and no one else is missing. Kinsey does a lot of research and talking with people, and eventually she does figure it out, almost getting herself killed in the process.
The review of this Book prepared by Tena van't Foort
Private investigator Kinsey Millhone has been hired to solve the 34 year-old disappearance of Violet Sullivan. She vanished in a brand-new 1953 Chevrolet Bel Air taking nothing with her, it seemed, but a Pomeranian puppy someone had given her.
Violet's now-grown daughter, Daisy, has led a tortured life and wants an answer to the question that has plaqued her since she was seven years old which is when her mother left. Did Violet just abandon her that 4th of July night in 1953? She provides Kinsey with newspaper clippings from that time and a list of names to people still alive who knew her mother: her baby-sitter; her baby-sitter's best-friend; the owner of the town's car dealership and his salesman; her mother's brother; several other locals; and the chief suspect at the time, Daisy's father.
Between Kinsey's conferences, flashbacks detailing the events prior to the disappearance give some insight into Violet's personality and behavior.
During an over-night stay at a motel, Kinsey realizes she must have stepped on someone's toes. Her room is invaded and her car tires are slashed!
A childhood memory of her own leads Kinsey to the where-abouts of the missing car. When she searches to find out who gave Violet the puppy, she fears she may end up a missing case herself.
The review of this Book prepared by Mariana