(Revisiting) A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton

64863A 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!




Source: Library
Publisher: Various (my edition was Pan)
Publication Date: 15th April, 1982 (original publication date)
Pages: 320
Format: ebook (Kindle)
Genre: crime fiction


  1. I am so behind with this series as this is the only book I have read of this series so far. I read it a couple of years ago. 🙂 I need to get to B soon. I enjoyed the first one.

    1. It’s a lot to catch up on but they aren’t long reads so don’t know if that helps?

  2. I’ve thought about revisiting the series. I loved it but I’ve missed the 2nd half of the series. I wanted to go back and start at the beginning but was afraid Kinsey would seem a little dated or just not as good as I remember. I’m glad to hear that she holds true. She’s such a great character and I forgot about Henry! He was my favorite. Sounds like an enjoyable revisit.

    1. I don’t know if I’ll ever read them all again but it was a good reminder of how much I loved them. I did worry about the feeling dated but it didn’t, it was just like meeting back up again with an old friend.

  3. I started reading this series more than twenty years ago, and kept at it for the reasons you mentioned: the great characters, especially Kinsey, who is like a real person you might meet; and how she lives on the edge and keeps following the clues. I love how the author shows us Kinsey’s personal life, what she has of it, including the apartment over the garage and her landlord Henry. I don’t get the love of running, either, LOL, but so many characters in mysteries do tend to hoof it. I do know that when I used to run, it helped with the stress.

    Thanks for reminding me (again) of how much I love this series. I think there are two more letters in the alphabet for Grafton’s books…can’t wait!

    This series is one that I would love to own…in its totality. Most I read from the library, a few I bought…but I can visualize them all lined up “alphabetically.”


    1. I think she is a character you just grow to love and could imagine being friends with. I do wonder what will happen when it is all over. I want them all in a row on my bookshelf too now!

  4. So glad you enjoyed your revisit to this series- oddly enough I never got into this one although my daughter has every book so far and loves them.

    1. The world would be boring I guess if we all liked the same books but I have to say this will always go at the top of my all time favourites. Because I was behind when I started I had a good run of reading almost nothing but for a while.

  5. I’ve been pondering starting this series again from the beginning and this post has given me the push to do it. I loved this series on the first read (I think I got as far as S) so would love to catch up ready for the final book. Great review! 😊

    1. Thank you. I am really glad I didn’t feel let down. There is lots I remember and lots I forgot. Whether I could read them all again I’m not sure…just because I wouldn’t end up reading anything else!

  6. Ooo – what a risk to take! I’m delighted it paid off, though – I have always loved this series and now have put off reading the last couple of books because I don’t want it to end…

    1. I do that with TV shows. I waited months to watch the end of Friday .night Lights because I didn’t want it to be over.

      1. I’m relieved I’m not the only one, then!

  7. I’ve only read a couple of books from this series, and I cannot quite decide if I like it or not.

    1. I don’t think they are for everyone but I think I like the comfort of them.

  8. […] favourite to see if it stood the test of time nearly 25 years after it was first published – A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton. Re-reading a book you loved first time round is always a risk but thankfully here it was one worth […]

  9. […] A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton, was a book I read almost 20 years ago and decided to revisit in advance of it’s 25th birthday.  This is one of the only series I have read all the books for (and we are up to X I think, so it’s a lot) and I love the central character Kinsey Millhone. She’s a good old fashioned private investigator in the days before mobile phones and the internet and I enjoyed slipping back into that world. […]

  10. I picked up the first Kinsey I ever read (“B is for Burglar”) because I was wanting the comfort food version of reading. I came across this blog because I was wondering if anyone viewed the Grafton series as I do. I enjoyed your synopsis very much, but I have to age us all a bit by mentioning that it is indeed 35 years, not 25, since Kinsey arrived on our scene. *gulp*

    1. I am so rubbish at maths – it’s why my job involves writing and nothing excel or calculator related. Now I feel even older! I do think of them as comfort reads. Like meeting and old friend! Thanks for stopping by.

  11. […] A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton […]

  12. […] Technically, this might be a cheat as there is a whole series of books here, starting with A is for Alibi and ending (for now) with the recently released Y is for Yesterday.  Set in the fictional Santa […]

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