Sue Grafton

A Is For Alibi

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A Is For Alibi Summary

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In 1982 novelist Sue Grafton kicked off her Kinsey Millhone series of “alphabet” mysteries with A is for Alibi. Subsequent installments include titles such as B is for Burglar and C is for Corpse. Kinsey Millhone, the central character, is a thirty-two year old private detective in Santa Teresa, a fictional city in southern California. Before embarking on her career as a private investigator, Kinsey worked as a police officer and insurance company investigator.

In A is for Alibi Kinsey Millhone is enlisted to reopen an eight year old case. She is not optimistic about being able to make a difference, but agrees to investigate on behalf of a prisoner who was recently released on parole. In Kinsey’s opinion, the parolee would not want the past to be dredged up again if she had been guilty of the crime. The woman’s name is Nikki Fife and she explains that she waited until being released from prison in the hope of finding someone who would agree to help her track down her husband’s killer. Kinsey has mixed feelings about accepting the case, but decides to look into it in the event that some piece of evidence might have been overlooked at the time of the trial.

Kinsey turns to an old friend at the police station, Detective Con Dolan, in order to review the case files. She discovers that Laurence Fife was killed using a poison called powdered oleander, and that a young accountant from Los Angeles suffered the same fate just four days prior to Fife’s death. While Kinsey finds this a strange coincidence, and a reason to try to help Nikki, Dolan interprets it as a reason to believe that she committed two murders, rather than one. At this point, Kinsey becomes convinced of Nikki’s innocence and sets out to find the criminal who,up to that point, has gotten away with two murders. As Kinsey delves into the case, people involved begin to grow nervous. Soon after Kinsey reopens the case and interviews both suspects and witnesses, a woman named Sharon Napier is shot and killed. Kinsey had had an appointment to interview the woman, but missed it, and she feels some degree of responsibility for her death.

As she continues to follow leads and make connections, Kinsey ends up journeying to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and the Salton Sea, growing more and more determined to solve the case along the way. After discovering the other death by poisoning, Kinsey, along with law enforcement authorities, all assumed that the murders were the work of one killer. As Kinsey makes progress in her investigation, however, she begins to believe that there are actually two different murderers at large, which reinforces her conviction that Nikki is innocent. It is in Kinsey’s nature to become fully involved in her cases and in the lives of those connected to the cases. She grows close to Nikki Fife, as well as to her son, who is deaf. Further complications arise when she becomes romantically involved with Charlie Scorsoni, who is a possible suspect in the case.

As events unfold, it is revealed that Gwen, Laurence Fife’s first wife, poisoned him. However, Gwen is killed right after Kinsey brings this to light. At this point, Kinsey figures out that the second killer is Charlie Scorsoni. Scorsoni works as an attorney and steals money from the estates of dead clients he represents. Scorsoni found it necessary to kill the other woman, Libby Glass, because she discovered that he was embezzling money. Once Kinsey knows that Charlie is guilty, she finds proof at the home of his law partner, John Powers. Gwen Fife was killed by a black Lincoln in a hit and run incident. Kinsey finds the same car at Powers’ house and it has damage that is consistent with the “accident”. Charlie then appears and chases Kinsey across a beach; the chase ends at a garbage dumpster where Kinsey shoots and kills Charlie Scorsoni.

A is for Alibi was the beginning of a highly successful crime fighting journey through the alphabet. In 2009, the Los Angeles Times said of Grafton’s series, “Grafton’s alphabet-titled series not only took hold, but the books are also available in 28 countries (and 26 languages) in abundant quantities, well into the millions of copies. In the last two years, Grafton has won lifetime achievement awards on both sides of the Atlantic. Without her and crime-writing colleagues Sara Paretsky and Marcia Muller, the female private detective subgenre would simply not exist. And with the end of the alphabet in sight, no author is more closely identified with reader expectations — especially when Z Is for Zero shepherds Kinsey and her hometown of Santa Teresa to a fictional end.”