August 09, 2004 12:00 PM

By Sue Grafton

When Sue Grafton inaugurated her alphabetically titled crime series in 1982, her heroine, Kinsey Millhone, was almost a detective cliché—a tough loner, unlucky in love, who surrounded herself with a makeshift family of misfits.

In the 18th Millhone novel, R is for Ricochet, the heroine’s disconnection and routine seem tinged with sadness: Will she ever get a life? Grafton highlights Millhone’s alienation by teaming her with reckless parolee Reba Lafferty, a wild-child gambling addict and relentless schemer. Millhone has been hired to escort Reba from prison, but she unwittingly gets sucked into a screwball plot that Reba has hatched to get the goods on a scurrilous ex-lover who let her go to jail for his financial shenanigans. An engaging romp ensues as the parolee and the slightly priggish detective bond over girl stuff, including makeovers and breaking and entering.

Grafton has always known how to craft a compelling plot, but Ricochet is lighter on its feet than her previous novels. Her dialogue is deliciously zingy and Reba is a marvelous character, one so bursting with life that it’s no wonder she inspires Millhone to let her hair down a little.

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