"M" Is for Malice
|Publisher||Henry Holt and Company|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
|LC Class||PS3557.R13 M13 1996|
|Preceded by||"L" Is for Lawless|
|Followed by||"N" Is for Noose|
In January 1986, Kinsey Millhone is hired by her recently discovered cousin, Tasha Howard, to find a missing heir on behalf of the wealthy Malek family. When patriarch Bader Malek died, everyone assumed his $40 million estate would be split between his sons Donovan, who has taken over the running of the Malek construction empire, Bennet, a would-be entrepreneur, and Jack, something of a playboy - but the only will which can be found also names the supposedly disinherited second son Guy, the black sheep of the family who left home 18 years before under a cloud after years of being in different kinds of trouble, and has neither been seen nor heard of by the family since. His unlikeable brothers do not want him back in their lives, and especially do not want him taking a share of the millions they feel he did not deserve. The story of Guy's rejection by his family strikes a chord with Kinsey as she struggles to deal with her own family's belated attempts to reach out to her.
With a little illicit help from Darcy Pascoe, her old ally at California Fedelity Insurance, Kinsey quickly tracks Guy to an address in the small town of Marcella near Santa Teresa, and finds him something of a surprise. After being rescued by local pastor Peter Antle and his wife Winnie, Guy has devoted himself to the church and turned his life around, living quietly supporting himself through odd-job work ever since. He seems to be far and away the best of the Malek boys, and Kinsey warms to him. Despite Kinsey's warnings, Guy agrees to return to his childhood home, where all the rest of the family are still living along with Donovan's wife Christie, cook Enid, and Bader's former nurse Myrna, who is now acting as housekeeper. Ugly family scenes ensue, not helped when a letter signed Max Outhwaite is sent to a local newspaper editor bringing unwanted media attention to the story of Guy's return and his past mis-deeds. Kinsey's worst fears for Guy are more than exceeded when he is found brutally bludgeoned to death at the family home. Suffering feelings of guilt as well as personal grief, Kinsey is determined to find his killer.
At the same time, Kinsey is trying to cope with her own personal problems, not helped by the reappearance in her life of Robert Dietz, the attractive but non-committing private investigator with whom she had had a relationship. We also learn that Kinsey's ex-boyfriend Jonah Robb, the investigating officer on the case, is now back with his wife Camilla despite her pregnancy by another man. Eventually Kinsey and Dietz resume their relationship, albeit on a transient basis, and Dietz offers his help with the case.
Initial physical evidence implicates Jack Malek in Guy's murder, and attorney Lonnie Kingman, from whom Kinsey now rents office space, hires Kinsey for further investigative work when he is taken on to defend Jack. Kinsey is certain that the motive for the crime - and the real identity of the non-existent Max Outhwaite - lies back in the past, but can't reconcile the lengthy catalogue of Guy's misdemeanors with the character of the man she knew. She becomes convinced that Guy was a scapegoat for crimes he didn't commit, particularly those involving the Maddison family: Guy supposedly swindled widow Mrs Maddison out of a fortune in valuable historical documents alongside getting daughter Patti pregnant. Kinsey discovers the swindle was actually perpetuated by Bennet and his university friend Paul Trasatti, and that it was probably Jack who got Patti pregnant. Maxwell Outhwaite was the name used in the swindle, which seems to link the murder to the Maddison situation, but since Mrs Maddison is dead, Patti died after a backstreet abortion, her sister Claire has recently died elsewhere, and there are no other family members, this appears to be a frustrating dead end.
However, Dietz discovers that the story of Claire's death has been faked. Meanwhile, Enid reports that Myrna has disappeared from the Malek home in circumstances suggestive of foul play. Kinsey realises that Myrna is actually Claire, having bided her time to get revenge on the Malek family and Guy in particular. Claire is making a quiet escape on foot after laying a false trail implying her own murder; Kinsey catches her and confronts her that she killed the wrong brother. After confessing to destroying the missing second will which disinherited Guy, and to the murder itself, Claire commits suicide by running into a stream of on-coming traffic. In a post-script, Kinsey explains that Tasha was able to use a note Guy wrote to Kinsey asking her on a date to Disneyland, which came to light only after his death, as evidence of testamentary intention that his share of the Malek millions should go to Peter and Winnie's church. Kinsey is left to reconcile herself with her grief at losing Guy, alongside her continuing feelings of loss for her dead parents and aunt.
- "'M' takes a leisurely pace, but true fans will like it". The Deseret News. 1996-11-24.
- Schwartz, Amy E. (1996-05-09). "The ABCs of Popular Culture". The Washington Post.