U is for Undertow Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of U is for Undertow

Kinsey Millhone finds herself once again pulled into a case involving a man remembering an old murder that is tied to several kidnappings from the 1960s. Spring has come to Southern California and private investigator Kinsey Millhone is hoping get away from her office and enjoy some much-needed time off. However, easier said than done can be considered Kinsey's motto since she is consistently finding herself dragged into cases that she has no interest in. This constant case after case schedule has begun to wear down Kinsey and she is finding the spark she once had to be slowly fizzling. So when her phone rings regarding a potential murder case, she is anything but excited.
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The call comes from Michael Sutton, a young man who has been going through memory recovery therapy due to traumatic events he witnessed as a child. Michael tells Kinsey he recovered a memory where he witnessed two people burying a body in the woods back in 1967 in the neighborhood he lived in known as Horton Ravine. He was only six years old at the time but the memory has come back vividly as it was on his sixth birthday. Michael is disturbed that he could have witness a murder and hires Kinsey to look into it. Of course, with the minimal information this job will not be an easy one to solve.

Kinsey begins her investigation by looking through the missing persons reports and finds that on the day Michael allegedly witnessed the body burial a young girl named Mary had been kidnapped and never found. This strong lead along with Michael's information allows her to track down the exact spot where the body was supposedly buried. Kinsey calls the police and is able to have them dig within the area only to find the remains of a dog. Kinsey is mortified but thinks something is amiss. She picks up the dog tags found on the dog which she hopes will allow her to track down the original owners. Meanwhile, and unknown to Kinsey she is being watched by a man named Walker McNally and old classmate from high school. Knowing she is in town, Walker gives up his sobriety and drinks the days away, the unearthing of the dog hitting a nerve. After leaving a bar late at night, Walker swerves in and out of traffic and in a horrific turn of events kills a girl who is crossing the street. He speeds away, making it a hit and run.

Back on the case, Kinsey discusses the events of Michael's memory with his family who prove that he was never in Horton Ravine, making his memory recovery a botched job. The disruption it has caused the family has been devastating and Kinsey decides to track down the owner of the dog tags for more information. When she arrives, the owner is shocked to find the dog tags and explains while the dog was put down back in 1967 he was not buried in Horton Ravine. Kinsey realizes that in order to get to the bottom of this she is going to have to talk to the people in the area.

However, before Kinsey can return she receives a call from her Aunt Gin asking her to come home for a family reunion. She tells Kinsey her grandmother is not doing well and going senile and she feels it would be best that she come now before it is too late. Kinsey is conflicted as she has had no contact with her family in years and being raised by her aunt she is not really feeling like a reunion. Kinsey remains non-committal and says she is on a case and can make no promises.

Kinsey returns to the neighborhood and begins to question the people who live there. Through a day of interviews, Kinsey learns that a young girl named Rain who was the daughter of the couple who owned the property had been kidnapped just like the young girl Mary but had been returned unharmed after a ransom of $15,000 had been paid, of course in unmarked bills. This disturbs Kinsey who believes there is a conspiracy going on and the events are tired together.

Kinsey does more digging and discovers that in 1960 the grandmother of Rain, Deborah formally adopted the girl Rain after her son and his girlfriend left the baby behind. Years later, her son Greg and Rain's mother returned asking for a loan to which Deborah had refused, days later Rain was kidnapped. Kinsey decides to go to the source and interrogates Deborah who said she knows that it had to be Shelley who kidnapped Rain. However, Kinsey decides to do more investigating and discovers that Shelley and Gregg could not have been the ones who kidnapped Rain as they weren't even in the state. Perturbed, Kinsey returns to Michael's family only to reach another dead end when the family reveals the event Michael had said he witnessed happened a week earlier than expected.

Meanwhile, Walker guilty and in hiding after his hit and run recalls the events of the past when he was friends with Greg and Shelley. He and his friend John had actually kidnapped Rain in an attempt get money for college. They buried the money in Horton Ravine but moved it and replaced with the dog corpse when they discovered the money was actually marked. Realizing they still needed money because the Ransom for Rain was useless, the duo had kidnapped Mary but she died from an allergic reaction when they tried to keep her sedated. Michael now realizes that the police and Kinsey are closing in and knows he will eventually be found out. Michael knows he should contact Jon and warn him that the case has been opened but is unable to bring himself to do so. He knows how dangerous Jon is and what is he capable of. Walker continues to drown his sorrows in booze, the only way he has been able to medicate for 21 years since the incident.

The next day, Michael has found himself a social pariah among his family as no one believes his story and has blamed him for disrupting the family and creating drama that doesn't exist. Alone and confused, Michael spots Walker going into an AA meeting. Immediately, Michael's memory is triggered yet again as the once blurry faces of the men digging in the ravine start to become clear. Michael realizes that Walker was one of the men he saw and phones Kinsey, worried any more outbursts to his family would result in him being committed. While on the phone, Walker spots and overhears Michael. Realizing his time is running short he calls Jon and reveals he is going to turn himself in as he cannot withstand the guilt any longer. He tells Jon about Michael and Kinsey's investigation and that the time has come to repent for his sins. Jon talks Walker off the ledge and tells him to give him a day or two and he will take care of everything. Walker is hesitate but listens to John as he has always come through in the past.

That night, Jon tracks down Michael knowing he is the only witness who could identify them in the kidnapping and murder. Not willing to risk his new life and needing to tie up loose ends, Jon confronts Michael. Michael recognizes Jon as the other digger and attempts to make an escape but Jon fatally shoots him and he dies before he even hits the ground. When Kinsey hears the news report of Michael being killed she is devastated and wishes she had met with him sooner. She begins to look into Walker and realizes that she knows his friend Jon from high school and she immediately believes he could be the one behind the entire operation. Kinsey tracks down Jon to his home right as he leaves. Refusing to let him get away and furious over Michael's death, Kinsey follows him to Horton Ravine, the place where it all began.

Jon confronts Walker and tells him he always knew he was the weak link and that it is his fault things have gotten out of hand. He reveals he is leaving the country and it will be a one-ticket/one-man escape. As Jon pulls a gun on Walker, Kinsey intervenes. Jon aims the gun at her and fires off a shot but Kinsey narrowly misses the bullet, pulls out her gun and shoots him. With Jon incapacitated, she Kinsey calls the police who arrive and arrest them both. Kinsey tells the police if they search Jon's property the will find the body of Mary, the missing girl from years before.

With another case closed, Kinsey decides to travel to her aunt's home and attend the family reunion. Worried about she will be received, she is thrilled to see her welcomed with open arms. Kinsey visits her grandmother who is delighted to see her, but unfortunately due to her memory believes Kinsey is someone else. However, Kinsey doesn't mind as she gets to enjoy being with her grandmother one last time.
Best part of story, including ending: I didn't like how the novel shifted perspectives so you know who the killer was long before Kinsey did. One of the fun things about reading a mystery novel is enjoying working with the main character on solving the murder or case. However, recently the author has begun to provide multiple perspectives into the story which tends to ruin the mystery of it.

Best scene in story: One of the best scenes was the murder of Michael by Jon, the original kidnapper and murderer from the 1960s. It is a suspenseful scene but also heart wrenching as Michael was only trying to do the right thing and ended up dead because of it.

Opinion about the main character: Kinsey is a wonderful private investigator but is beginning to read like she is worn out. I am also finding the coincidences of her having all of these past connections with characters to be highly unbelievable as she always has an inside scoop in solving the crime.

The review of this Book prepared by Jason Macumber a Level 4 Yellow-Headed Blackbird scholar

Chapter Analysis of U is for Undertow

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Plot & Themes

Composition of Book descript. of violence and chases 10%Planning/preparing, gather info, debate puzzles/motives 60%Feelings, relationships, character bio/development 20%How society works & physical descript. (people, objects, places) 10% Tone of story    -   depressing/sad How difficult to spot villain?    -   Very obvious Time/era of story:    -   1980's-1999 What % of story relates directly to the mystery, not the subplot?    -   70% Special suspect?    -   best friend Misc. Murder Plotlets    -   solving long-past murder    -   Big focus on forensic evidence Kind of investigator    -   amateur citizen investigator Kid or adult book?    -   Adult or Young Adult Book Crime Thriller    -   Yes Murder Mystery (killer unknown)    -   Yes

Main Character

Gender    -   Female Profession/status:    -   private investigator Age:    -   20's-30's Unusual characteristics:    -   Super genius

Writing Style

Accounts of torture and death?    -   generic/vague references to death/punishment Amount of dialog    -   significantly more descript than dialog

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Sue Grafton Books Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
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