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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

A is for Alibi

Reviewed: May 29, 2008
By: Sue Grafton / read by Judy Kaye
Publisher: Random House Audio
3 CDs, 3 hours, $19.95

I read A is for Alibi not that long after it first appeared in paperback in the mid-1980s as a result of hearing an interview Peter Gzowski did with Sue Grafton on Morningside. I stuck with the so-called Alphabet mysteries up to book 8 and then other things crowded it out and she began producing them so quickly I could not keep up. Her latest is T is for Trespass so she hasn’t got far to go.

She could, I suppose, start a new theme at “Z” (is for Zealous?). Harry Kemelman took Rabbi David Small through a series of seven mysteries named after the days of the week, and then started a different set if them titles.

At any rate, Random House has just started issuing these relatively inexpensive abridged versions of the early novels in the series. They were short books, so the chopping isn’t as evident as it is in longer stories where entire subplots have to be excised.

Grafton burst onto the mystery scene about the same time as Sara Paretsky began her V.I. Warshovsky series, and the two of them have been major influences on the private eye genre since then, even to influencing work in the various supernatural PI series that have appeared in the last decade. I am quite comfortable in suggesting that without Kinsey and Vikki there would never have been an Anita Blake, even if Laurell K. Hamilton writes about vampire hunting rather than about simple homicides and larceny.

Kinsey Milhone is a year older than I am and lives in the mid-sized city of Santa Teresa, California. After a two year stint with the local police department, Kinsey got fed up with fighting the bureaucracy and shifted to a job as a private detective, working first for an agency, then on her own.

During that same period she was married twice, but is single again when we first meet her, living in a small studio apartment and trying to keep her life as uncomplicated as possible. Of course that wish means she’s in the wrong line of work.

The first case on which we follow her proves just how complicated life can get. When Nikki Fife walks through Kinsey’s front door she presents her with a very odd case. Nikki has already served her prison time for killing her husband, Lawrence, but she’s out now, and she’s determined to find out who really did the deed. That’s what she wants Kinsey to investigate.

It’s an eight year old trail that everyone else believes leads straight to Nikki, but something about her persistence persuades Kinsey to take the case. Along the way to a solution she meets and has an affair with the dead man’s legal partner, finds connections to a similar murder and realizes that one of her best sources of information is Nikki’s son, deaf from birth, who is perhaps not the most reliable witness when it comes to events that occurred when he was a toddler.

It’s been 20 years since I read the book, so there were lots of surprises for me even though I recalled the rough outline of the plot. Judy Kaye does a fine job bringing the story to life.

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