"A" Is for Alibi

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"A" Is for Alibi
A is for Alibi.jpg
First edition cover
Author Sue Grafton
Country United States
Language English
Series Alphabet Mysteries
Genre Mystery
Publisher Henry Holt and Company
Publication date
April 15, 1982
Media type Print Hardcover
Pages 274 first edition
ISBN 978-0-8050-1334-4
OCLC 7835758
Followed by "B" Is for Burglar

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

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 summary[edit]

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 Fife 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 embezzling money from Mutual fund accounts. He 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. Before he can kill her, she shoots him dead.


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]


  • 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.[2] 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.”"[3][4] Before those less enthusiastic words, they had said, "The female detective is well drawn and the plot moves at a fast clip".[4]

Development of the novel[edit]

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

Publication history[edit]

The first printing of "A" Is for Alibi was 7,500 copies,[5] with initial sales of about 6,000.

Writing style[edit]

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".[6] The novel is are framed a report Kinsey writes in the course of her investigation, and written in the First-person narrative giving depth to the narrative.[7]


  1. ^ a b Brantingham, Barney (July 1, 2008). "W Is for Writers Conference; Sue Grafton Is Kinsey Millhone". Santa Barbara Independent. Retrieved August 2, 2011. 
  2. ^ "Review: 'A' IS FOR ALIBI". Kirkus Reviews. September 24, 2011 [April 1, 1982]. Retrieved January 10, 2018. 
  3. ^ Williams, Wilda (January 5, 2018). "From A to Y: Sue Grafton Remembered". Library Journal Reviews. Retrieved January 10, 2018. 
  4. ^ a b "'A' Is for Alibi". Library Journal. 107 (7): 747. April 1, 1982. 
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ Kaufman (1997), 385
  7. ^ Kaufman (1997), 386


  • Kaufman, Natalie Hevener; Kay, Carol McGinnis (1997). "G" Is for Grafton: The World of Kinsey Millhone (Hardcover ed.). Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 0-8050-5446-4. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]