V is for Vengeance
(2011), a crime thriller by Sue Grafton, is the twenty-second novel in the Kinsey Mahone
series by Grafton. It is set in 1988 when Kinsey is thirty-eight years old in the fictional timeline of the series.
Phillip Lanahan is driving to Las Vegas in the red Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet that his grandfather gave him, bought used because his grandfather cannot tolerate depreciation. Phillip, good-looking and aware of the fact, has borrowed a large sum of money from Lorenzo Dante, which he loses playing poker. Confronted by Dante, he admits he cannot pay the money back, so Dante tells him he will take the car in lieu of the debt. Dante sends his brother, Cappi, with Phillip to claim the car, but at the parking garage, Cappi unexpectedly throws Phillip off the roof, killing the young man.
The narrative switches to the point of view
of Kinsey Millhone, who is shopping at Nordstrom’s when she witnesses a classic shoplifting scheme involving two women. She alerts store security and the main shoplifter is apprehended while her companion escapes, and almost runs Millhone over in the parking garage. Audrey, the woman arrested for shoplifting, commits suicide shortly after being released from jail. Millhone is hired by Audrey’s boyfriend to investigate her death, believing it was not suicide and that Audrey was part of a sophisticated shoplifting ring.
Dante is worried about his crime operation; Audrey was, in fact, the leader of his shoplifting organization; Cappi murders her when she’s released from jail in order to protect his brother. Dante believes his brother is working with the police to set him up. The action shifts to Nora, Phillip’s mother. She is broken up about her son’s death, which has caused her to reevaluate her life; she decides to leave her husband, selling her jewelry to finance it; she contacts Dante as a fence. They are attracted to each other, and Dante offers her more money than her jewelry is worth.
Remembering a comment made by Audrey’s boyfriend, Millhone goes back to Nordstrom’s to review the security footage of the car almost running her over. She sees a bumper sticker on the car that helps her identify it; she tracks the car down and begins following the driver. The driver picks up stolen merchandise and puts it into charity drop boxes, where a truck picks it up and drives it to Dante’s warehouse, where it is in turn sent out to stores to be sold for profit.
Millhone contacts an old boyfriend, detective Cheney Phillips, and tells him what she’s found. He warns her that she is threatening the safety of a confidential police informant. Millhone continues investigating. She is visited by Pinky Ford, her old mentor, who attempts to leave mysterious photos with her. Sensing something is wrong, she refuses. Later, a police detective, Len Priddy, comes to her office and threatens her, assuming she has the photos. She finds Pinky and he tells her the photos are blackmail material Priddy has been using to get Pinky to tell him about Dante’s criminal empire.
Kinsey follows Pinky home. They find that Cappi has taken Pinky’s wife hostage. Cappi demands that Kinsey burn the photos, which she does. Cappi, satisfied, leaves, but Pinky grabs his shotgun and pursues; in the ensuing gunfight, Pinky’s wife is shot and taken to the hospital.
Kinsey confronts Dante and finds him preparing to leave the country. He has confessed to Nora that he loaned her son money and was indirectly the cause of his death, and that he had been feeding Cappi false information about his business. Now he hopes that Nora will join him as he flees. He sets up an account to pay for Pinky’s wife’s treatment, feeling bad, and leaves, hoping that Nora will show up.
Kinsey hears that Pinky’s wife has passed away. Knowing her old mentor will seek revenge, she goes to Dante’s warehouse to try to stop him from trying to kill Cappi. When she arrives, she sees federal law enforcement arrayed there, ready to raid the structure. She enters, seeking Pinky. When the police move in, Pinky and Cappi are both shot, and Dante hits Kinsey to prevent her from risking her life. He escapes into a series of tunnels under the warehouse. He makes his way to the airport, where Nora surprises him by joining him on his private plane.
A month or so later, Kinsey is visited in her office by Dante’s secretary, who informs her that Dante wants to hire her for one last job: Taking the evidence she has showing that Len Priddy was trying to strong-arm him into handing over his criminal operation. Kinsey accepts the job and arranges to send the evidence to a journalist she knows, guaranteeing that Priddy will be prosecuted.