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Exploring murder, alphabetically

Sue Grafton's Alphabet Series has a loyal following all over the world. Roshen Dalal examines the phenomenon.

books Updated: Dec 16, 2003 12:23 IST

As readers eagerly await the publication of Sue Grafton's latest novel in her alphabet series of murder mysteries, they learn to their disappointment that it has been postponed till next year.

So far, Grafton has seventeen books in the series, beginning with A is for Alibi, and the most recent being Q is for Quarry. What is remarkable in her mysteries is not just her fast-paced plot, but her psychological insight into her characters, particularly the character of her detective, Kinsey Millhone. Twice-divorced Kinsey is a private detective and a single woman, who likes being single. Kinsey doesn't cook, eats largely junk food and loves burgers, fries and coke.

She knows how to laugh at herself, when she gets into absurd situations, such as when she illegally enters a house by pushing her way in through a doggy door, only to be greeted by a dog who growls if she tries to stand up, so that Kinsey explores the house crawling on all fours. She is often inappropriately dressed and doesn't really care. She rarely, if ever, gets involved in a relationship, and lives life on her own terms, with few possessions or ties.

Yet Kinsey is concerned and empathetic. She makes sure she gets paid, as she has to live, but at the same time she cares about those who employ her, about the victims and their families. In Q is for Quarry, an unsolved real murder of an unidentified seventeen year-old girl, forms the base for the fictional plot. Like Kinsey,Grafton cares enough for the real-life victim to get involved in giving her a proper burial, and puts a reconstructed picture of her in the book, hoping that some day she would be identified.

Sue Grafton's titles

A is for Alibi

B is for Burglar

C is for Corpse

D Is for Deadbeat

E Is for Evidence

F Is for Fugitive

G Is for Gumshoe

H Is for Homicide

I Is for Innocent

J Is for Judgment

K Is for Killer

L Is for

M Is for Malice

N Is for Noose

O Is for Outlaw

P Is for Peril

Q Is for Quarry

The other books have purely fictional characters. In some, the focus is mainly on the plot, with Kinsey's life being secondary, while in most there is a parallel focus on Kinsey and the mysteries she solves.

G is for Gumshoe

is one of those with long passages on Kinsey, and on her newly reconstructed apartment, which was blown up by a bomb, an incident that is describedinthe previous book,

E is for Evidence


Ms. Grafton's descriptive passages and attention to small details, enable one to picture what she describes. "The entire apartment had the feel of a ship's interior. The walls were highly polished teak and oak, with shelves and cubbyholes on every side….. In the ceiling above the bed, there was a round shaft extending through the roof, capped by a clear Plexiglass skylight that seemed to fling light down on the blue-and-white patchwork coverlet. Loft windows looked out to the ocean on one side and the mountains on the other…".

Sue Grafton's books have been published in twenty-eight countries in twenty-six different languages. In her introduction to her books,she writes, " For months I lay in bed and plotted how to kill my ex-husband. But I knew I'd bungle it and get caught, so I wrote it in a book instead." Whether this is true or not, it certainly adds interest to her books!

First Published: Dec 12, 2003 11:13 IST