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'A' is for Alibi (1982)
Odd as it may strike you on first consideration, Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone books, despite the seeming innovation of gender, are in many ways one of the most traditional of the current crop of popular private eye series. Where Robert B. Parker (see Orrin's review of A Savage Place) and his acolytes (see Orrin's review of The Monkey's Raincoat) have made fundamental, and largely deleterious, changes to the structure of the genre, Grafton has hewed much more closely to the classic elements established by Hammett, Chandler and MacDonald.
The Spenser books are now essentially relationship stories--with Susan, with Hawk, with Quirk, etc.. The essential factor of the private eye's isolation has been removed. Nor is he vulnerable anymore, what with chums on the police force and some brooding bad guy friend (like Hawk or Joe Pike) who is willing to step outside the law whenever necessary. Nor are they truly about investigations anymore; we tend to know fairly early who the bad guy is and the novel merely details how Spenser provokes him into a bloody battle. The elements that provided such exquisite tension in the classics of this field have been replaced by a wisecracking build up to a physical showdown, which we well know our hero will prevail in.
By comparison, Kinsey is very much of a lone wolf, vulnerable because of physical factors and because of a lack of guardian angels in law enforcement. Furthermore, because the confrontational style of her contemporaries would so endanger her, she actually solves mysteries. And, miracle of miracles, she's not a gourmet cook, preferring to head to a local diner for her meals. The benefits of these traditional elements are on full display in this fine rookie effort. Hired to look into the murder of a womanizing attorney by the wife who just did eight years for killing him, Kinsey stumbles into a hornets nest that includes another eight year old crime and some current mayhem. The payoff comes in a genuine plot twist, as she puts all the pieces together, and a final confrontation with the killer, wherein she is both physically and emotionally at risk.
Grafton lost her footing briefly a few letters ago, when she started needlessly exploring Family issues in Kinsey's past, but in the most recent entries that I've read (I think she's up to O, but I'm not) she seemed to be back in top form. By following the lead of the classic authors who came before, she is producing a series which seems destined to one day be considered classic in its own right.
See also:Private Eyes
-Sue Grafton Web Site Home Page
-Profile: Sue Grafton (January Magazine)
-PROFILE: O is for Outlaw...and "Oh, Good." There's a new Sue Grafton novel! (Beyond the Cover)
-PROFILE/BIBLIO: Kinsey Millhone Created by Sue Grafton (Thrilling Detective)
-ARTICLE: Sue Grafton's Santa Barbara (Susan Haynes, Coastal Living)
-BIO & INTERVIEW: (McDougal Littell)
-CHAT: iVillagers Interview Sue Grafton (iVillage)
-INTERVIEW: HomeArts: S Is for Sue Grafton (Marion Long, Home Arts)
-INTERVIEW: Sue Grafton on writing and the Hollywood life (not!) (Jamie Allen, CNN)
-INTERVIEW: A Conversation With Sue Grafton (Claire White, Writers Write -- The IWJ)
-INTERVIEW: How I Wrote That Story Sue Grafton (Amazon.com)
-FIRST CHAPTER: N Is for Noose
-AWARDS: The Shamus Awards: Bestowed by the Private Eye Writers of America
1986 SHAMUS AWARDS--B is for Burglar by Sue Grafton
1991 SHAMUS AWARDS--G is for Gumshoe by Sue Grafton
1995 SHAMUS AWARDS--K Is For Killer by Sue Grafton
-REVIEW: of A is for Alibi (The Thumbnail Book Reviews, John Q McDonald)
-REVIEW: of N Is for Noose (January Magazine)
-REVIEW: of O is for Outlaw (Karen G. Anderson, January Magazine)
-REVIEW: of O Is for Outlaw (Mostly Fiction)
-REVIEW: THE MYSTERY READER reviews: O is for Outlaw by Sue Grafton (Lee Gilmore, Mystery Reader)
-REVIEWS: Ois for Outlaw (Epinions)