Sue Grafton Scrabble

With the release of X, Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Mystery series has solved almost an entire alphabet of cases. But, what’s the point of an alphabet series if you can’t have fun spelling words with the letters? And, what’s a mystery novel without a bit of DEATH?

See also: Review: X by Sue Grafton

D is for Deadbeat

Kinsey’s in business for herself, so that sometimes means working for dodgy people, like Alvin Limardo, whose reason for hiring her seems sketchy:

“I want someone to track him down and make sure he gets the money. If you can estimate what that might run me, I’ll pay you in advance.”

“That depends on how elusive Mr. Gahan turns out to be. The credit bureau might have a current address, or the DMV. A lot of inquiries can be done by phone, but they still take time. At thirty bucks an hour, the fee does mount up.”

He took out a checkbook and began to write out a check. “Two hundred dollars?”

“Let’s make it four. I can always refund the balance if the charges turn out to be less,” I said. “In the meantime, I’ve got a license to protect so this better be on the up and up. I’d be happier if you’d tell me what’s going on.”

E is for Evidence

This case begins with a very personal mystery for Kinsey, the question of who deposited five thousand dollars into her bank account using a night deposit drop. Like anyone else, the detective is baffled and irritated by what she assumes is a bank error, proving that private detectives’ lives are just as messy and over-booked as anyone else’s:

“The account number was correct, but the deposit wasn’t mine. In my experience, banks are the least helpful institutions on earth, and the notion of having to stop what I was doing to straighten out an error was nearly more than I could bear.”

A is for Alibi

Kinsey Millhone made her mystery debut in this case about a woman, convicted of her philandering husband’s murder, who hires the private detective to find out who really did the deed. Grafton describes her heroine this way:

“My name is Kinsey Millhone. I’m a private investigator, licensed by the state of California. I’m thirty-two years old, twice divorced, no kids. … I’m a nice person and I have a lot of friends. My apartment is small but I like living in a cramped space. I’ve lived in trailers most of my life, but lately they’ve been getting too elaborate for my taste, so now I live in one room, a “bachelorette.” I don’t have pets. I don’t have houseplants. I spend a lot of time on the road and I don’t like leaving things behind.”

Read David Cranmer's review of A Is for Alibi here!

T is for Trespass

This tale of identity theft and a sociopathic predator—whose victim is Kinsey’s grumpy neighbor, Gus Vronsky—is set, as all the novels are, in the city of Santa Teresa, a fictionalized version of Santa Barbara. The story takes place in winter, and here’s how Kinsey Millhone describes a California winter in Santa Teresa:

“Days were gloomy, but there were splashes of color in the landscape—salmon and magenta bougainvillea that flourished through December into February. The Pacific Ocean was frigid—a dark, restless gray—and the beaches fronting it were deserted. The daytime temperatures had dropped into the fifties. We all wore heavy sweaters and complained about the cold.”

H is for Homicide

Book 8 of Grafton’s series opens with the death of one of Kinsey’s good friends and the absence of a man who has gotten under her skin, despite her best efforts at avoiding complications in her life:

“His departure was wrenching, the banal and the bittersweet mingling in about equal parts.

“I’m not good at good-byes,” I’d said the night before he left.

“I’m not good at anything else,” he’d replied with that crooked smile of his. I didn’t think his pain was any match for mine. I might have been wrong, of course.”

Five books. Five cases. And a whole lotta D-E-A-T-H.


Katherine Tomlinson is a former reporter who prefers making things up. She was editor of Astonishing Adventures Magazine and the publisher of Dark Valentine Magazine. She edited the charity anthology Nightfalls. Her dark fiction has appeared in Shotgun HoneyA Twist of NoirLuna Station Quarterly, and Eaten Alive, as well as anthologies, including Weird NoirPulp Ink 2Alt-DeadAlt-Zombie, and the upcoming Grimm Futures, which she also edited. Her most recent collection of short stories is Suicide Blonde. She sees way too many movies.

Read all posts by Katherine Tomlinson for Criminal Element.

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