Catalogue


P is for peril /
Sue Grafton.
imprint
New York : G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2001.
description
352 p.
ISBN
0399147195 (acid-free paper)
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
author
imprint
New York : G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2001.
isbn
0399147195 (acid-free paper)
general note
"A Marian Wood book."
catalogue key
4481611
A Look Inside
About the Author
BIH Author Biography
Sue Grafton divides her time between Montecito, California, and Louisville, Kentucky, where she was born and raised. She is now at work on her next novel, Q is for Quarry.
Excerpts
Flap Copy
Dr. Dowan Purcell had been missing for nine weeks when Kinsey got a call asking her to take on the case. A specialist in geriatric medicine, Purcell was a prominent member of the Santa Teresa medical community, and the police had done a thorough job. Purcell had no known enemies and seemed contented with his life. At the time of his disappearance, he was running a nursing care facility where both the staff and the patients loved him. He adored his second wife, Crystal, and doted on their two-year-old son. It wasn't Crystal who called Kinsey. It was Purcell's ex-wife, Fiona. Everything about their meeting made Kinsey uneasy. Fiona's manner was high-handed and her expectations unrealistic. Kinsey's instincts told her to refuse the job, yet she ended up saying, "I'll do what I can, but I make no promises." It was a decision she'd live to regret. Pursuing the mysterious disappearance of Purcell, Kinsey crashes into a wall of speculation. It seems everyone has a theory. The cops think he went on a bender and is too ashamed to come home. Fiona is sure he ran off to get away from Crystal, and Crystal is just as sure he's dead. The staff at the nursing home is convinced he's been kidnapped, and one of his daughters, having consulted a psychic, is certain that he's trapped in a dark place, though she doesn't know where. Kinsey is awash in explanations and sorely lacking in facts. Then pure chance leads her in another direction, and she soon finds herself in a dangerous shadow land, where duplicity and double-dealing are the reality and, with the truth glinting elusively out of reach, she must stake her life on a thin thread of intuition. P is for Peril: Kinsey Millhone's latest venture into the darker side of the human soul.
First Chapter
The house on Old Reservoir Road appeared to be in the final phases of construction. I spotted the site as I rounded the curve, recognizing the unfinished structure from Fiona Purcell's description. To my right, I could see a portion of the reservoir for which the road was named. Brunswick Lake fills the bottom of a geological bowl, a spring-fed body that supplied the town with drinking water for many years. In 1953 a second, larger catch basin was established, and now Brunswick is little more than an irregular blue splotchlet on maps of the area. Swimming and boating are forbidden, but seasonally the migrating water birds rest on the placid surface as they make their way south. The surrounding hills are austere, gentle swells rising to the mountains that mark the northernmost boundary of the Santa Teresa city limits.

I parked my VW on the gravel berm and crossed the two-lane road. The steeply pitched lot was still bare of landscaping and consisted entirely of raw dirt and boulders with a dusting of weeds taking hold. At street level, a big commercial Dumpster was piled high with debris. A small grove of signs planted in the yard announced the names of the building contractor, the painting contractor, and the architect, though Mrs. Purcell had been quick to assure me by phone that she'd drawn up the plans herself. The design-if that's what you want to call it-would have been approved by the Department of Defense: an implacable series of concrete boxes, staunch and unadorned, stacked up against the hillside under a pale November sun. The facade was as blank as a bunker, a radical contrast to the sprawling Spanish-style homes on adjacent properties. Somewhere to the rear of the house, there must have been a driveway leading to garages and a parking pad, but I opted for the stairs built into the barren hillside. At six A.M., I'd done a three-mile jog, but I'd skipped my Friday-morning weight lifting to keep this early appointment. It was just now eight o'clock and I could feel my butt dragging as I mounted the steps.

Behind me, I could hear a dog bark. Its deep-throated yaps echoed through the canyon, conveying a message of excitement. A woman was calling, "Trudy! Truuddy!" while the dog barked on. She emitted a piercing whistle, and a young German shepherd came bounding over the hill, heading in my direction at full speed. I waited, bracing myself for the force of muddy feet, but at the last possible second, the whistle came again and the dog sprinted off. I continued climbing Fiona's wide concrete steps, tacking twice before I reached the upper terrace with its plain limestone portico that shaded the front entrance. By then, my thighs were burning, I was huffing and puffing, and my heart was rat-a-tat-tatting like machine-gun fire. I could have sworn there was less oxygen in the air up here, but I'd actually only climbed the equivalent of two stories and I knew it was probably no more than three- to four-hundred feet above sea level. I turned, pretending to admire the view while I recovered my breath.

From this aerie, I could see the broad, shimmering band of the Pacific Ocean stitched to the shoreline some five miles away. Before me, the day was so clear, I could almost count the mountain ridges on the islands twenty-six miles out. Behind me, the clouds were peering over the mountaintops, a fast-moving blanket of dark gray in advance of a storm. San Francisco, four hundred miles to the north of us, was already feeling its lash.

By the time I rang the bell, my breathing had slowed and I'd done a quick mental review of the subject I was here to discuss. Fiona Purcell's ex-husband, Dr. Dowan Purcell, had been missing for nine weeks. She'd had a messenger deliver a manila envelope filled with newspaper clippings that recapped events surrounding his disappearance. I'd sat in my office, tilted back in my swivel chair, my Sauconys propped on the edge of my desk while I studied the articles she'd sent. She'd arranged them chronologically but had otherwise presented them without editorial comment. I'd been following the story in the local papers, but I'd never anticipated my involvement in the case. I found it helpful to have the sequence laid out again in this truncated form.

I noticed that over the course of nine weeks, the character of the coverage had shifted from the first seventy-two hours of puzzlement, through days of feverish speculation, and into the holding pattern that represented the current state of the investigation. Nothing new had come to light-not that there was ever much to report. In the absence of fresh revelations, the public's fascination had begun to dwindle and the media's attention to the matter had become as chilly and abbreviated as the brief November days. It is a truth of human nature that we can ponder life's mysteries for only so long before we lose interest and move on to something else. Dr. Purcell had been gone since Friday, September 12, and the lengthy column inches initially devoted to his disappearance were now reduced to an occasional mention nearly ritual in its tone. The details were recounted, but the curiosity had shifted to more compelling events.

Dr. Purcell, sixty-nine years old, had practiced family medicine in Santa Teresa since 1944, specializing in geriatrics for the last fifteen years. He'd retired in 1981. Six months later, he'd been licensed as the administrator of a nursing care facility called Pacific Meadows, which was owned by two businessmen. On the Friday night in question, he'd worked late, remaining in his office to review paperwork related to the operation of the nursing home. According to witnesses, it was close to nine o'clock when he stopped at the front desk and said good-night to the nurses on duty. At that hour, the occupants had settled down for the night. The corridors were empty and the residents' doors were closed against the already dimmed hall lights. Dr. Purcell had paused to chat with an elderly woman sitting in the lobby in her wheelchair. After a cursory conversation, less than a minute by her report, the doctor passed through the front door and into the night. He retrieved his car from his reserved space at the north side of the complex, pulled out of the lot, and drove off into the Inky Void from which he'd never emerged. The Santa Teresa Police and the Santa Teresa County Sheriff's Departments had devoted endless hours to the case, and I couldn't think what avenues remained that hadn't already been explored by local law enforcement.

I rang the bell again. Fiona Purcell had told me she was on her way out of town, a five-day trip to San Francisco to purchase furniture and antiques for a client of her interior design firm. According to the papers, Fiona and the doctor had been divorced for years. Idly, I was wondering why she'd been the one who called me instead of his current wife, Crystal.

I saw a face appear in one of the two glass panels that flanked the entrance. When she opened the door, I saw that she was already dressed for travel in a double-breasted pin-striped suit with wide lapels. She held a hand out. "Ms. Millhone? Fiona Purcell. Sorry to make you wait. I was at the back of the house. Please come in."

"Thanks. You can call me Kinsey if you like. Nice meeting you," I said.

We shook hands and I moved into the entrance hall. Her handshake was limp, always startling in someone who, otherwise, seems brisk and businesslike. I placed her in her late sixties, close to Dr. Purcell's age. Her hair was dyed a dark brown, parted on one side, with puffy bangs and clusters of artificially constructed curls pulled away from her face and secured by rhinestone combs, a style affected by glamour-girl movie stars of the 1940s. I half-expected an appearance by John Agar or Fred MacMurray, some poor, feckless male who'd fallen prey to this vixen with her fierce shoulder pads. She was saying, "We can talk in the living room. You'll have to pardon the mess."

Scaffolding had been erected in the foyer, reaching to the lofty ceiling. Drop cloths lined the stairs and the wide corridor leading to the rear of the house. To one side of the stairs, there was a console table and a streamlined chrome lamp. Currently, we seemed to be the only two on the premises.

"Your flight's at ten?" I asked.

"Don't worry about it. I'm eight minutes from the airport. We have at least an hour. May I offer you coffee? I'm having mine in here."

"No, thanks. I've had two cups this morning and that's my limit most days."

Fiona moved to the right and I followed in her wake, crossing a broad expanse of bare cement. I said, "When do the floors go in?"

"These are the floors."

I said, "Ah," and made a mental note to quit asking about matters far beyond my ken.

The interior of the house had the cool, faintly damp smell of plaster and fresh paint. All the walls in range were a dazzling white, the windows tall and stark, unadorned by any curtains or drapes. A sly glance behind me revealed what was probably the dining room on the far side of the entryway, empty of furniture, subdivided by rhomboids of clear morning light. The echo of our footsteps sounded like a small parade.

In the living room, Fiona gestured toward one of two matching armchairs, chunky and oversized, upholstered in a neutral-toned fabric that blended with the gray cement floor. A large area rug showed a densely woven grid of black lines on gray. I sat when she did, watching as she surveyed the space with the practiced eye of an aesthete. The furnishings were striking: light wood, tubular steel, stark geometric shapes. An enormous round mirror, resting in a crescent of chrome, hung above the fireplace. A tall silver and ivory coffeepot, with a matching creamer and sugar bowl, sat on a silver tray on the beveled-glass coffee table. She paused to refill her cup. "Are you a fan of art deco?"

"I don't know much about it."

"I've been collecting for years. The rug's a Da Silva Bruhns. This is Wolfgang Tumpel's work, if you're familiar with the name," she said, nodding at the coffee service.

"Beautiful," I murmured, clueless.

"Most of these pieces are one of a kind, created by craftsmen who were masters in their day. I'd go on rattling the names off, but I doubt they'd mean much if you're not acquainted with the period. I built this as a showcase for my collection, but as soon as the house is finished, I'll probably sell it and move on. I'm impatient by nature and far too restless to stay here long." She had strong features: thinly arched brows and dark, smudged eyes, with pronounced streaks of weariness descending from the inner corners. She took a sip of coffee and then paused to extract a cigarette from a pack sitting on the table. The lighter she used was one of those small gold items and made very little sound when she flipped the cover back and thumbed the striker wheel. She held the lighter in her palm and drew deeply on her cigarette, clearly savoring the relief. She tilted her head toward the ceiling and blew the smoke out in a stream. I figured I could always drop my blazer at the cleaners on the way home.

She said, "I don't think I mentioned this when we chatted the other day, but Dana Glazer suggested I get in touch with you. I believe she was Dana Jaffe when you were acquainted with her."

"Really. How do you know her?"

"I'm helping her redecorate her home. She's now married to one of Dow's associates, Joel Glazer, whose first wife died. Do you know Joel? He's a partner in a company called Century Comprehensive that owns a chain of nursing homes among other things."

"I know the name Glazer from the papers. I've never met him," I said. Her call was beginning to make sense, though I still wasn't sure how I could be of service. Dana Jaffe's first husband, Wendell, had disappeared in 1979, though the circumstances-on the surface-were very different from the current case. Wendell Jaffe was a self-made real estate tycoon who'd faked his own death, showing up in Mexico shortly after his "widow" had collected half a million dollars in life insurance benefits. Wendell was facing jail time after a Ponzi scheme he'd cooked up threatened to unravel, exposing his chicanery. The "pseudocide" was his attempt to avoid the inevitable felony conviction. He might have pulled it off, but he'd been spotted in Mexico by a former acquaintance, and I'd been dispatched by the insurance company, who wanted their money back. I wondered if Fiona suspected her ex-husband had pulled a fast one as well.

She set her coffee cup aside. "You received the articles?"

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Library Journal on 2001-04-15:
In her 15th alphabetical mystery, Grafton deserves an A for maintaining her series's high standard of excellence. This time private investigator Kinsey Milhone is hired by Dr. Fiona Purcell to find her ex-husband, Dowan, a prominent physician who vanished with his passport and $30,000 in cash nine weeks earlier. Wondering what she can do that the Santa Rosa police haven't done already, Kinsey takes the case and quickly discovers that the nursing home Purcell administered is being investigated for Medicare fraud. Was Purcell involved or did the facility's owners have something to do with his disappearance? And what about his second wife, ex-stripper Crystal, who Fiona believes is having an affair with her personal trainer? At the same time, Kinsey's losing streak with men continues as she is pursued romantically by her new office landlord's brother. Unfortunately for Kinsey, her new Mr. Right and his sibling are suspects in the murder of their parents. As usual, Grafton mixes an intriguing plot, well-developed characters, and humor into an entertaining summer read. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/00; a Literary Guild main selection.] Wilda Williams, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2001-05-21:
PI Kinsey Millhone's trademark dry sense of humor is largely absent in the first half of the 15th book in this justifiably popular series, though it resurfaces as the suspense finally begins to build in the second half. In the bleak November of 1986, Kinsey looks into the disappearance of Dr. Dowan Purcell, who's been missing for nine weeks. Dr. Purcell is an elderly physician who runs a nursing home that's being investigated for Medicare fraud. His ex-wife, Fiona, hires Kinsey when it seems as though the police have given up on the search. Fiona thinks that he could be simply hiding out somewhere, especially since he's pulled a disappearance stunt twice before. However, Purcell's current wife, Crystal, believes that he may be dead. Kinsey is dubious about finding any new leads after so much time has elapsed. She's also worried about having to move out of the office space she now occupies in the suite owned by her lawyer, and between her interviews with suspects she tries to rent a new office from a pair of brothers whose mysterious background begins to make her suspicious. Grafton's Santa Teresa seems more like Ross Macdonald's town of the same name than ever before, with dysfunctional families everywhere jostling for the private eye's attention. The novel has a hard-edged, wintry ambience, echoed in Fiona Purcell's obsession with angular art deco furniture and architecture. Unfortunately, Grafton's evocation of the noir crime novels and styles of the 1940s, although atmospheric, doesn't make up for a lack of suspense and lackluster characters. (June 4) Forecast: With a 600,000-copy first printing and a national author tour, this Literary Guild Main Selection is sure to shoot well up the bestseller lists. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Reviews
This item was reviewed in:
Library Journal, December 2000
Booklist, March 2001
Kirkus Reviews, March 2001
Library Journal, April 2001
Publishers Weekly, May 2001
USA Today, May 2001
Globe & Mail, June 2001
Los Angeles Times, June 2001
New York Times Book Review, June 2001
San Francisco Chronicle, June 2001
Wall Street Journal, June 2001
Boston Globe, August 2001
Washington Post, October 2001
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Summaries
Main Description
She's every lover's feisty girlfriend. She's every father's courageous daughter. She's every woman's tough, vulnerable, and spirited alter ego. She's Kinsey Millhone, familiar to millions of readers around the globe, and she's back in full stride in P is for Peril , her latest venture into the darker side of the human soul. Mordant, mocking, and deceptively low-key, hers is a voice we know we can trust, from a character we've come to love. Through fifteen novels, Sue Grafton has gone from strength to strength, never writing the same book twice. So it's no surprise that she has taken on new territory in her sixteenth, this time entering the world of noir. It's a world cast in shades of black amid shafts of steel and silver, a shadow land in which the mysterious disappearance of a prominent physician leads Kinsey into a danger-filled maze of duplicity and double-dealing as she taps into the intricacies of a cunning Medicare fraud. P is for Peril : the novel in which Millhone stakes her life on a thin thread of intuition because the facts glint elusively out of reach and only guesses offer any shot at the truth. "Unlike many detective series, Grafton's seems only to get better each time out," wrote Entertainment Weekly , and P is for Peril is a case in point. Pushing herself, reaching further with each new book, Sue Grafton delivers every time.
Publisher Fact Sheet
The 16th in bestselling author Sue Grafton's hugely popular series finds sleuth Kinsey Millhone entering the world of noir, as she probes the mysterious disappearance of a prominent physician.
Unpaid Annotation
It's no surprise that Grafton has taken on new territory in her 16th book of the alphabet series, this time entering the world of noir. It's a world cast in shades of black amid shafts of steel and silver, a shadow land in which the disappearance of a prominent physician leads Kinsey Millhone into a danger-filled maze of duplicity as she taps into a cunning Medicare fraud.
Unpaid Annotation
She's every lover'sfeisty girlfriend.She's every father'scourageous daughter.She's every woman's tough, vulnerable, and spirited alter ego.She's Kinsey Millhone, familiar to millions of readers around the globe, and she's back in full stride in P is for Peril, her latest venture into the darker side of the human soul. Mordant, mocking, and deceptively low-key, hers is a voice we know we can trust, from a character we've come to love.Through fifteen novels, Sue Grafton has gone from strength to strength, never writing the same book twice. So it's no surprise that she has taken on new territory in her sixteenth, this time entering the world of noir. It's a world cast in shades of black amid shafts of steel and silver, a shadow land in which the mysterious disappearance of a prominent physician leads Kinsey into a danger-filled maze of duplicity and double-dealing as she taps into the intricacies of a cunning Medicare fraud.P is for Peril: the novel in which Millhone stakes her life on a thin thread of intuition because the facts glint elusively out of reach and only guesses offer any shot at the truth."Unlike many detective series, Grafton's seems only to get better each time out," wrote Entertainment Weekly, and P is for Peril is a case in point. Pushing herself, reaching further with each new book, Sue Grafton delivers every time.

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