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"A" Is for Alibi is crime writer Sue Grafton's debut mystery novel in the Kinsey Millhone "Alphabet mystery" series, first published in 1982.

"A" Is for Alibi
A is for Alibi.jpg
First edition cover
AuthorSue Grafton
CountryUnited States
SeriesAlphabet Mysteries
PublisherHenry Holt and Company
Publication date
April 15, 1982
Media typePrint Hardcover
Pages274 first edition
Followed by"B" Is for Burglar 

The novel is set in the fictional southern California city of Santa Teresa, based on Santa Barbara. The choice of murder by substituting the contents of an antihistamine tablet with crushed oleander meant that an alibi held no value because the contents of the tablet could have been switched a considerable time earlier than the victim actually swallowed the tablet. Grafton says that she conceived aspects of the plot on her own "fantasies" of murdering her then-husband while going through a divorce.[1]

Plot summaryEdit

Kinsey Millhone, 32, private detective investigates the death of prominent divorce lawyer Laurence Fife. His murder eight years earlier was blamed on his wife, Nikki Fife. Upon being released from prison, Nikki hires Kinsey to find the real murderer. In the course of the investigation, Kinsey becomes involved with Charlie Scorsoni, the late Mr. Fife's former law partner. She discovers Fife's death has been linked to that of a woman in Los Angeles, his law firm's accountant; both died after taking poisonous oleander capsules, which had been substituted for allergy pills. Kinsey tracks down the accountant's parents and former boyfriend. She then goes to Las Vegas to interview Fife's former secretary, Sharon Napier, who is killed minutes before Kinsey arrives. Back in California, Kinsey is mystified that Nikki's son, Colin, recognizes Laurence's first wife, Gwen, in a photograph. Kinsey surmises that Gwen was having an affair with her ex-husband at the time of his death. She accuses Gwen, who confesses. Shortly afterwards, she too is dead, killed in a hit-and-run crash.

Kinsey has solved the case she was hired to investigate; but in a plot twist, she discovers that her previous notions about the accountant's death were entirely wrong: in fact, it was Scorsoni who killed her when she discovered he was skimming dividend money from estate accounts under his management. Scorsoni used the same method that Gwen used to kill Fife, so it would be assumed the same person committed both murders. In a final confrontation, he chases Kinsey across the beach, armed with a knife. Kinsey hides in the shore line, and she is forced to remove her shoes and pants. Before Scorsoni can kill her, she shoots him dead.

A secondary storyline involves Millhone's surveillance of Marcia Threadgill, suspected of insurance fraud in a trip-and-fall case. Although Millhone believes she has successfully documented Threadgill's deception, the insurance firm that contracted Millhone to investigate Threadgill moves to pay her claim anyway, citing potential legal costs and complications, including the risk of reprisal.


The choice of murder by substituting the contents of an antihistamine tablet with crushed oleander meant that an alibi held no value because the contents of the tablet could have been switched a considerable time earlier than when the victim actually swallowed the tablet.[citation needed]


The book is dedicated to Chip Grafton, the author's father, "who set me on this path".[2] The elder Grafton was a municipal bond attorney in Kentucky who pursued a secondary career as a crime novelist, winning minor acclaim for four novels. Chip Grafton died on January 1, 1982 at the age of 72, four months before 'A' is for Alibi was published.[3]


  • Kinsey Millhone: Private investigator hired by the wife of a man murdered years earlier, to find the real killer, after the wife is let out of prison, having been blamed for his death.


Kirkus Reviews said this was a "shakily plotted but otherwise terrific start for a new detective series", writing when the book was released.[3] They look forward to the rest of the Alphabet Series, "fine dialogue, a great eye for people and places", if the author can tighten up her plots.

Looking back at the series soon after the author's death, Library Journal Reviews remarked on the slow build up to successful reviews, including a quote from its own review: "Critic Sarah Weinman notes that pseudonymous New York Times critic Newgate Callendar dismissed A Is for Alibi as "competent enough, but not particularly original." Alas, LJ's reviewer was equally unenthusiastic in an April 1, 1982, review, waving the book aside as "nothing to take it out of the ordinary."[4][5] Before those less enthusiastic words, they had said, "The female detective is well drawn and the plot moves at a fast clip".[5]

Development of the novelEdit

Grafton relates that she conceived the story on her own "fantasies" of murdering her then husband while going through a divorce.[1]

Publication historyEdit

The first printing of "A" Is for Alibi was 7,500 copies,[6] with initial sales of about 6,000.

Writing styleEdit

Grafton's style is characteristic of hardboiled detective fiction, according to the authors of 'G' is for Grafton, who describe it as "laconic, breezy, wise-cracking".[7] The novel is framed as a report Kinsey writes in the course of her investigation, and written in the First-person narrative giving depth to the narrative.[8]


  1. ^ a b Brantingham, Barney (July 1, 2008). "W Is for Writers Conference; Sue Grafton Is Kinsey Millhone". Santa Barbara Independent. Archived from the original on September 18, 2012. Retrieved August 2, 2011.
  2. ^ Grafton, Sue (1982). "A" is for Alibi. Thorndike Press Large Print Famous Authors, 2008, in arrangement with Henry Holt & Company. p. 5. ISBN 9781410406811.
  3. ^ a b "Review: 'A' IS FOR ALIBI". Kirkus Reviews. September 24, 2011 [April 1, 1982]. Retrieved January 10, 2018.
  4. ^ Williams, Wilda (January 5, 2018). "From A to Y: Sue Grafton Remembered". Library Journal Reviews. Retrieved January 10, 2018.
  5. ^ a b "'A' Is for Alibi". Library Journal. 107 (7): 747. April 1, 1982.
  6. ^ Paul, Steve (May 11, 1992). "'N Is for Novelist,' not mystery writer; Sue Grafton has arrived, thanks to Kinsey Millhone". The Kansas City Star. p. D1.
  7. ^ Kaufman (1997), 385
  8. ^ Kaufman (1997), 386


Further readingEdit

External linksEdit