B Is for Burglar
is a 1985 mystery novel by the prolific and wildly popular American fiction writer Sue Grafton. It is the second of her “alphabet series” of mystery books featuring private eye Kinsey Millhone. It is preceded in the series by A Is for Alibi
and followed by C Is for Corpse.
At the beginning of the book, the reader is introduced to a private detective based in Santa Teresa, California, who goes by the name of Kinsey Millhone. Though Millhone is a woman, she has the male name Kinsey because it was the name of her maternal grandmother, a wealthy debutante. In 1955, when Millhone was only five years old, she was involved in a car accident that killed her parents. This was a formative and traumatic experience for Millhone because she was left in the car for hours, sitting next to her deceased parents, before being rescued.
Among Millhone’s idiosyncrasies are her enjoyment of peanut butter and pickle sandwiches and a tendency to cut her thick, dark hair with nail clippers because she doesn’t care much about her appearance. That said, she is incredibly physically fit, running three miles every Monday through Friday, despite the fact that she also lives on fast food because it is quick and convenient. Millhone has no children and has been divorced twice.
The case in B Is for Burglar
concerns a woman named Beverly Danzinger, who hires Millhone to track down her missing sister, Elaine Boldt. Danzinger’s motive for locating her sister, however, doesn’t appear totally altruistic: Boldt’s name must be signed on some paperwork before Danzinger is to receive a hefty family inheritance. No one has seen Boldt since she got in a cab on the way to the airport, where she was to fly to Boca Raton, Florida, as she does every winter. Initially, Millhone is unimpressed by the intricacies of the case, believing that it is a simple enough job for the police to handle. Nevertheless, she accepts the job from Danzinger.
Millhone’s first assumption is that Boldt made it to Florida, so she flies to Boca Raton. There she meets Pat Usher, a woman who claims that she subleases Boldt’s Boca Raton property. Millhone, however, can find no proof of this other than Usher’s word, and so when she discovers Usher at Boldt’s apartment, she finds it suspicious. Millhone also meets an elderly woman named Julia, whom she trusts enough to spy on Usher and the property while Millhone returns to California, believing that Boldt never made it out of town.
Millhone’s suspicions of foul play grow when she discovers two crimes at Boldt’s apartment complex back in Santa Teresa. The first is the death of Marty Grice, Boldt’s neighbor, who was supposedly killed in a botched burglary that resulted in her home catching fire. The second is a break-in at the apartment belonging to Tillie, the building supervisor. Tillie is charged with retrieving and holding Boldt’s mail while she is away. Millhone suspects that the burglars are after Boldt’s passport. Finally, Millhone’s own office is burglarized by would-be thieves on the lookout for information on Boldt.
Following all of these dramatic developments, Millhone insists to Danzinger that she contact the police regarding Boldt’s disappearance, but Danzinger violently refuses. Out of both suspicion of Danzinger’s involvement in the disappearance as well as Danzinger’s unstable behavior, Millhone tells her she will no longer work for her. Millhone is still concerned about Boldt, however, so she continues to investigate the disappearance, now on behalf of Boldt’s neighbor, Julia.
The prospect of Danzinger’s involvement increases when Millhone discovers that Boldt was having an affair with Danzinger’s husband, Aubrey. Another big suspect is Usher, who disappears after trying to get a driver’s license in Boldt’s name and leaving her Boca Raton apartment a mess. But what about the connection to the woman Marty Grice, killed in the botched burglary fire? Millhone tracks down Marty’s drug-dealer nephew, Mike, who admits he set the fire. Based on a number of inconsistencies in Mike’s story to Millhone and his story to the police, Millhone infers the truth about Boldt’s disappearance: that Marty Grice and her husband, with Mike’s help, killed Boldt so Marty could steal her identity and accept the inheritance. Marty got plastic surgery to look more like Boldt, but in the meantime she’s been going by the name Pat Usher.
In the end, Millhone is able to confront Marty and her husband and, following a dangerous gunfight and standoff, manages to subdue the couple until the police arrive to take them to jail.B Is for Burglar
is a thrilling detective yarn, one that also further develops the fascinating character of Kinsey Millhone for readers.