‘A’ is for Alibi by Sue Grafton
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.