The A B Cs of Murder

Simon and I have read all kinds of fiction and nonfiction audio books to pass the miles on long road trips. From books that made us think to stories that gave us chills. With the exception of romance novels, we’ve covered most genres. Lately, though, we’ve taken to reading mystery and thriller collections in chronological order. This keeps us from getting into long discussions on what to read next. One of these is Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Series.

Since 1982, Kinsey has been solving murders alphabetically with titles like “A is for Alibi”, “B is for Burglar”, and so on. The last book in the series to hit book store and virtual shelves in 2015 was simply titled “X”. What Grafton plans to do with her quirky private detective character after the last two letters have been claimed by their respective murder victims is uncertain. I hope Grafton doesn’t make the end of the alphabet the end of the line for Kinsey as well. She’s grown on us

Kinsey was born, raised and still lives in a fictional California town called Santa Teresa; a ubiquitous location somewhat reminiscent of Santa Barbara. A former cop, Kinsey struggles to make a living as a PI, while trying to work through her abandonment issues.

Grafton’s plots are fast-paced and cleverly executed, with no shortage of surprising twists and turns. But it is the character of Kinsey that carries them.

Kinsey’s odd-ball clients, atrocious eating habits and disastrous love life keep the reader amused as the stories unfold. Grafton’s plots are complex. Trying to second-guess the outcome is usually an exercise in futility. Red herrings and distractions emanating from Kinsey’s personal life keep the answers just out of reach.

Grafton’s heroine is multi-dimensional. Kinsey is gifted with a keen intelligence, dogged determination to expose the truth and a hefty dose of compassion. She is also flawed. Her questionable use of lock picks, inability to resist snooping and occasional inflexibility often get her into trouble. But these traits always are assets in completing her assignments.

Through more than half the alphabet, Kinsey is the sole narrator of each story. Beginning with “S is for Silence”, however, Grafton begins to insert perspectives of other key characters told in the third person. From then on, the books become even more fun and interesting. Knowing what Kinsey doesn’t adds new elements to the ongoing tension and final outcome.

Kinsey is a creature of habit. She runs three miles most days, her idea of cooking consists of cold cereal for breakfast and sometimes dinner. She loves peanut butter and pickle sandwiches any time of day., When Kinsey dines out, she either gorges herself on junk food, or drinks bad wine and consumes questionable fair at a local bar and restaurant. . Rosie, the establishment’s sharp-tongued Hungarian owner, is the only person who seems to have the ability to boss Kinsey around..

Her wardrobe consists mainly of jeans and turtlenecks, along with what she calls her all-purpose dress. This is a little black dress that can be accessorized up or down, and is only warn in emergency situations where jeans just won’t do.

Kinsey’s pack of index cards appear in every book. The cards are to her what my Mac Book Air is to me. And, although I hate to admit it, they sometimes are more efficient in quickly organizing facts.

Our favorite detective has few friends, but they are endearing. Henry, her octogenarian landlord and neighbor is lovable beyond belief. His gentle presence brings out Kinsey’s softer side.

These common threads, which run through the entire series, have made us comfortable. They give the reader familiarity as a counterpoint to the unexpected.

Between A and X, Kinsey has aged six years, from 32 to 38. Now there’s a secret I’d love to learn. Since this means the series began in 1982, “X” takes place in 1988. Kinsey has no computer, no cell phone and no web to surf for information and answers. It’s Kinsey’s grit, wit, and ability to put it all together that make for enjoyable reading between the closing of the garage door and arrival at our destination.

You can find Sue Grafton’s books at your local book store, online or your local library. A list of the Kinsey Millhone books in chronological order can be found at

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