‘C’ is for Corpse by Sue Grafton

‘C’ is for Corpse by Sue Grafton 1986

Bobby Callahan asks private investigator Kinsey Millhone to IMG_1850look into an accident a year ago where he was run off the road and his friend Rick died in a car crash. He is brain injured and doesn’t remember much but believes someone wanted him dead. She is introduced to his shrink Dr. Kleinert, his wife Nola, Bobby’s mother Glen who is rich, his stepfather Derek and stepsister Kitty, who is anorexic and drug addicted. She’s rushed to the ER.

Grafton takes each possible suspect and has Kinsey grill them, sometimes in a friendly way and sometimes in her sarcastic hardliner way. Grafton throws in a few more suspects, including Rick’s angry parents. The characters are hiding something and Kinsey begins the task of finding out the truth, explaining her own method — she noses around, does background checks, uncovers a threat, and follows where it leads.

Kinsey and Bobby visit the crash site, and he remembers a notebook he gave to a friend. Kinsey recalls the accident in which a boulder hit her family’s car and killed her parents. She was in the back seat and pinned to the floor, listening to her mother dying. Kinsey is her mother’s maiden name. If that doesn’t make the reader sympathetic to Kinsey, nothing will.

Her landlord Henry has a girlfriend, Lila, who Rosa thinks is a snake. She doesn’t like Kinsey and brings up her low rent. Kinsey checks into her and discovers Lila is a con artist. It’s a subplot that explores Kinsey’s personal life and how much her neighbors mean to her. When she searches Lola’s room, she is almost caught hiding in the shower. Some tense moments of hiding foreshadow the ending when she runs and hides from the killer. Grafton likes Kinsey to face the bad guy on her own. She doesn’t have her gun, but she finds a handy weapon to save her own life and capture the bad guy.

A few things were hard to accept like operating an x-ray machine although Grafton talks us into buying it. I kept getting the two doctors mixed up and the roles they played. This is where reading the book a second time helps. I didn’t like Kinsey going to an abandoned building alone without a gun. I thought she was smarter than that.

 

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‘B’ is for Burglar

B is for Burlgar by Sue Grafton 1985

It’s been three years since Sue wrote ‘A’ is for Alibi and it shows in her writing. Where ‘A’ started a bit slow, ‘B’ moves the story at a faster pace from the very beginning. It starts at a simple missing person job. Kinsey Millhone needs to find Elaine Boldt because her sister Beverly needs her signature on a legal document.B is for Burglar

The story becomes more interesting when Elaine’s departure for Florida coincides with a burglary in which the neighbor, Marty, was bludgeoned to death and the house set on fire. Her husband Leonard is staying with his sister Lily and nephew Mike is growing pot in the shed behind the charred ruins of his former home. Kinsey has to travel to Florida to see if Elaine ever made it. Pat claims to be subletting her apartment but she claims Elaine picked her up at the airport and drove her here. Grafton drops a big clue. Elaine doesn’t drive. Pat is lying but why? When Beverly wants to drop the case, Julia in Florida pays for the investigation. Kinsey travels between California and Florida to piece together the facts. She also enlist the help of a cop to bypass Dolan’s stuck investigation. When she checks into the insurance angle, the policy on Marty and their home insurance was small and provides no motive. She can’t find a motive for anyone to get rid of Elaine so where is she?

Small things add up to the big picture. I liked how Kinsey uses a clipboard and claims to be from the insurance company so she can interview Leonard. She makes friends with old ladies and Mohawk-haired teenage boys with ease. Jonah is introduced as a possible love interest but timing is wrong for both of them. Kinsey’s tenacity is shown as well as some background information into her personal life. An aunt raised her after her parents died – the cause wasn’t revealed. It was the same aunt who took her to a gun range at a young age and set her on the path to law enforcement and future private investigator. I suspect more of her personal life will be revealed through the remaining books. At least I hope so. I won’t tell you more of the plot and ruin it, but the pieces begin to add up and the book’s ending is a nail biter because Kinsey left her gun locked in her office.

 

‘A’ is for Alibi by Sue Grafton

‘A’ is for Alibi by Sue GraftonA Crafton

My mom loved murder mysteries, and Sue Grafton was one of her favorites. I gathered some of the alphabet murder books and plan to read through them from A to Y. Grafton died before finishing Z.

I finished ‘A’ is for Alibi today, and since I would like to write a mystery, I’m going to note the things I learned from her writing.

Feel free to share your thoughts and comments about Grafton and her writing.

The book was published in 1982 and although some things in the book are dated, it doesn’t matter. What is unusual for 1982 is the private investigator Kinsey Millhone. She’s a woman, but not a grandmotherly type or amateur sleuth. She’s a hard-nose, twice divorced, 32-year-old professional. The story begins with her admitting to killing someone in the fourth sentence. Grafton got right to the point quickly—name, occupation, age and POW—killing someone. I’ve been told to introduce the murder in the first page. Grafton does it in the first paragraph, but it’s not the real murder.

The real murder occurred 8 years ago and Nikki Fife served eight years in jail for murdering her cheating husband. She wants Kinsey to find out who the real murderer was. That’s the story. Grafton introduces us to Kinsey’s bare-bones life, her hangout, her neighbor, and a cop who helps with the case. She introduces suspects one at a time, dropping clues along the way. The interviews provide information and secrets that the reader inhales along with Kinsey. I was kept guessing until the end, well, maybe not the very end. But knowing made the ending more exciting because of the danger.

Grafton uses description to set up each chapter, which is a compact scene, a part of the puzzle she’s assembling for the reader. Each witness provides a clue, lead, or lie to keep the reader moving along to solve the mystery. I kept a list of the characters, but they were distinct enough to keep separate if you don’t put the book down for too long.

Grafton adds a fresh murder with an unknown motive Kinsey and the reader need to discover. She also throws in dinner and sex for Kinsey. A red herring is planted and Kinsey uses a tough interview technique (pointing a gun at him) to eliminate the suspect.

The clues come rapid fire in the second half of the book with twist and turns that change the motive from cheating spouse to something more. When another witness is run down in a hit skip, Kinsey is in danger and she defends herself the only way she knows how. No one comes to her rescue. No one needs to.

Grafton makes Kinsey a well-rounded character, not the typical stereotype detective that too many writers fall back on. She’s gritty and straightforward but knows when to listen. She makes mistakes, but doesn’t lose her way. Many of the characters are women in the book (good and bad) and that may seem normal in 2018 but it had to be groundbreaking in 1982.  Now, only 24 more books to go.

Sue Grafton (April 24, 1940 – Dec. 28, 2017) didn’t write ‘Z’ is for Zero. She left that to our imaginations. Thank you.