A tough-talking former cop, private investigator Kinsey Millhone has set up a modest detective agency in a quiet corner of Santa Teresa, California. A twice-divorced loner with few personal possessions and fewer personal attachments, she’s got a soft spot for underdogs and lost causes.
Eight years ago, Nikki Fife was convicted of killing her philandering husband. Now she’s out on parole and needs Kinsey’s help to find the real killer.
If there’s one thing that makes Kinsey feel alive, it’s playing on the edge. When her investigation turns up a second corpse, more suspects, and a new reason to kill, Kinsey discovers that the edge is closer―and sharper―than she imagined.
Although I’m a little early for the birthday celebrations, Kinsey Millhone is turning 25 this year, or rather her detective stories are. Finding this out made me feel more than a little old but also nostalgic – this is the one series I have never missed an instalment of, having first picked them up in the mid-80’s. It got me thinking as to whether the early books had stood the test of time and whether my memories of them were founder than my current feelings might be if I read them again.
There are many reasons you stay with a series I think but the main one, for me, is the characters and this definitely applies here. I remember when I first read A is for Alibi thinking that Kinsey was great, a strong female character and someone I would want to be in another life (one where I lived in California and knew how to shoot a gun). I loved that she lived this minimalist life in her elderly landlord’s garage, drank Chardonnay, drove a beat up VW, and didn’t need anyone else to make her happy. I have to say, after re-reading A is for Alibi, I still wish I could be her and am seriously thinking of studying for my private investigator license.
Although written and set in the 80’s Kinsey as a character didn’t feel dated. I could see her in many of the female detectives I read nowadays. They all share the same traits of living alone, not wanting to be tied down, and not being able to let something go even if their life is on the line. A lot of them also seem to share Kinsey’s love of running for fun (which I’ll never quite get) and into danger without seemingly meaning to. Possibly Kinsey is a little less hard around the edges than some of her more modern counterparts but that doesn’t make her any less interesting (though possibly a little easier to like).
Her elderly landlord Henry is a great addition to the books and a wonderful character in his own right. I know from future books he becomes more central to some stories but even here you could see the spark and wanted to get to know him more. He seems a perfect fit for Kinsey and her life, which is really well drawn so that you feel you know her and the world in which she lives.
The story itself doesn’t feel dated either and this might in part be because it always reminded me of another age anyway. There is something about the traditional gumshoe in the Kinsey Millhone stories and I really enjoyed that. This doesn’t mean the plots aren’t complicated. They have plenty of twists and turns to keep you interested but there aren’t any serial killers on the loose here, more jilted women and jealous husbands. Very much like real life, the people who die in A is for Alibi know their killers. They are good, old-fashioned, works of crime fiction and all the better for it I think.
Over the years I have seen Kinsey develop and Sue Grafton has definitely stretched herself as a writer more with future books. She has also kept the character moving on in pretty much “real time” for her so the books are still set in a time before mobile phones and easy access to the internet. It’s amazing the work a detective had to do to find things about pre-google but also a nice change of pace. Things aren’t as fast in 1982 and I like it.
I am relieved to say I still liked the book too, always a risk when revisiting one you have fond memories of. In my head, I imagine everyone has read this series but I’m sure that isn’t the case and for those who haven’t I can really recommend them – still liked this one a lot!
Publisher: Various (my edition was Pan)
Publication Date: 15th April, 1982 (original publication date)
Format: ebook (Kindle)
Genre: crime fiction