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When A IS FOR ALIBI first hit bookstores in 1982, I was moonlighting as a skip tracer for a local detective agency. My skills as a real estate agent leant themselves to researching names and properties, and with interest rates at 15%, my clients had all but vanished. So, in what turned out to be plenty of spare time, I tracked down deadbeat dads and insurance frauds all over the country from a phone bank in a dingy little office in the Midwest. I served a couple of subpoenas, which was kind of creepy. I lurked on a stakeout with a cohort to film a disability claimant painting houses on 16-foot ladders, then hobbling into the doctor’s office on crutches, and it made me think: I could write a book!

Then, BAM, I found Sue Grafton and was hooked. Impressed by her chutzpa at tackling a 26-book series, I decided to let her entertain me until the real estate market turned. Which it did, and just in time --- my employer turned out to be a bit shady; one Friday I was employed, and by the following Monday the office was bare. As in G IS FOR GONE. So much for my career as a female PI. Twenty-four books later, I’m impressed that Grafton is still developing Kinsey’s personal backstory and philosophizing through her characters on her own take of living the simple life in the midst of the “greed is good” ’80s. 

"What may be the best part of the series is that X takes place in 1989, having gained only seven years over the past three decades. Kinsey still operates as an old-fashioned gumshoe."

In X, Kinsey Millhone helps the widow of a former colleague, Pete Wolinsky, who was murdered in W IS FOR WASTEDHe had left a jumble of tax documents in storage that are of keen interest to the IRS. One of the boxes, marked with an “X,” contains seemingly random information about a woman who committed suicide 28 years ago. When Kinsey finds a mailer hidden in the bottom seam of the box bearing a recent date, her investigation turns deadly as she tracks down the intended addressee. The IRS isn’t alone in wanting to get their hands on the contents. As Kinsey travels the California backroads in search of the suicide victim’s daughter, she suspects that the death was not a suicide and that there may be others. 

In an unrelated case, Kinsey is hired by a local realtor on the ruse of finding a long-lost son.  The so-called son turns out to be an ex-con safecracker who can help her get even with her wealthy ex-husband, whose dalliance with another woman wrecked their marriage. The jilted ex-wife found a catalog picture of a priceless, long-missing painting by J.M.W. Turner, worth millions, that she is sure she saw in her ex-husband’s vault. Its retrieval would be a tidy retribution for her reduced circumstances.

It is refreshing to know that Kinsey’s 80-something landlord, Henry, is still baking rolls for Rosie’s Diner, and, when they’re not at the mercy of Rosie’s Hungarian surprises, he fixes Kinsey’s dinner. In her apartment, her hackles are raised when an elderly couple who moved into the empty house next door abuse Henry’s hospitality with constant demands. So in her spare time, she does what she does best, sniffing out what she suspects to be a scam.

What may be the best part of the series is that X takes place in 1989, having gained only seven years over the past three decades. Kinsey still operates as an old-fashioned gumshoe. She uses pay phones and a portable Royal typewriter, cusses at the recently installed copy machine, and compulsively jots down every detail on her ever-present 3x5 index cards. Technology looms in the coming decades, but she and the local county offices heartily resist. Her fictional Southern California town of Santa Theresa is locked in time in the grips of a devastating drought and water shortages. Some things, it seems, never change.

Reviewed by Roz Shea on August 27, 2015

by Sue Grafton

  • Publication Date: August 2, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
  • ISBN-10: 1101981873
  • ISBN-13: 9781101981870