You’ve got to hand it to Sue Grafton. She really does her homework. With all the research she puts into her Kinsey Milhonne series A is for Alibi, etc. I would recommend it to anyone working in or wishing to work in the criminal justice system.
But I would recommend it to the reading public at large, too, because the Kinsey Milhonne series is so well conceived and masterfully executed. It is a near-perfect microcosm of modern America, like a dewdrop that reflects the world around it.
Kinsey is a private investigator in Santa Barbara, California. Her parents died in a car accident when she was five and she was brought up by her Aunt Gin, who passed away. So Kinsey’s on her own. But she finds a home and a family in a uniquely American, perhaps a uniquely West-Coast way.
She meets her landlord, Henry, a retired baker in his eighties and the lady who runs the Hungarian restaurant/sports bar down the street. Henry’s in his eighties, and he has all these brothers and sisters older than he is.
At some point in the alphabet Kinsey’s little garage apartment gets blown to bits by a bomb, and Henry has it lovingly recontructed with a kind of ship’s-cabin motif.
Kinsey finds her home and her family in this wonderful, loving old man and his whacky sibilings who get together all the time and fight about funny things. And they fix one brother up with the lady at the Hungarian restaurant.
In Kinsey Milhonne’s world, love is where you find it. All these personal developments I’ve just summed up actually happen as slowly as a glacier over the course of these great alphabet mysteries which have exquisitely drawn characters from every walk of life tangled up in cleverly conceived webs of hatred and violence and greed.
The irony I often find is that Kinsey, who has no family, at least at the beginning of the series, is always investigating murders which have resulted from the evils created by bad family dynamics.
And Grafton’s baddies are real bad. If they’re after you, you should be afraid. She sketches them from life through exhaustive research. They’re real. Look in any one of her books at the people she’s thanking — you see sheriff’s deputies, state policemen, judges, correctional officers, forensic scientists — this is the kind of craftsmanship I deeply admire. This is the true way to authenticity.
This is what makes Dashiell Hammett and Georges Simenon and Per Wahloo so great, this scholarly connection to everyday law enforcement and criminal justice.
But with Sue Grafton’s books, you also have this gutsy young woman constructing her world from the inside out, finding out what matters in life. In the first book, Kinsey finds a guy who gives good head and shoots him dead.
In later books we learn more about her mother’s family, and Kinsey meets some of her cousins, and we’re introduced to her ex-husband the pianist and she kind of has a thing with a policeman who goes back to his wife and then gets dumped by his wife and wants to get back together, but Kinsey’s not buying.
Then she finds love on her terms with an ex-FBI guy, but… Well you can read all about it yourself. You won’t be disappointed. I’d suggest starting at the begining of the alphabet, but if you see one at a tag sale grab it and read it. That’s what I did.
I can almost guarantee you’ll wind up reading them all.