Over the years, I’ve reread A is for Alibi countless times (as why would I not since I wrote it in the first place?). To read it again with an eye to commenting on the writing process was an entirely different experience. In the notes I jotted in the margins, I found myself apologizing for my immodesty and my complete lack of humility, but honestly, I wouldn’t change a word. At the time I set off, I’d never written a crime novel so I had no reputation to uphold and nothing at stake. I wrote with a joy and sassiness impossible to describe. I bless PEN for the opportunity to revisit and remember.
First edition. Before there was DCI Jane Tennison, before there was even Dr. Kay Scarpetta, there was Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, “an ex-cop who likes her work and works alone.” The world of detective fiction would never again be a boys only affair. It was time for hommes fatales: “Kinsey’s relationship with Charlie Scorsini is the moral and spiritual equivalent of the hard-boiled private eye’s sexual connection to the femme fatale,” she writes in her annotations. “She knows better and chides herself later for getting involved with him. Nearly gets her killed.” Grafton enjoyed revisiting this work. When Millhone describes one character as “looking a bit like Arlette might if she decided to cross-dress,” she writes in the margin: “Love this! I know it sounds egotistical but it’s the truth…” When the action moves to Las Vegas she allows how she “loves the images of cheap motels.” She even tips in a photocopy of the 1 August 1980 letter from her editor, Marian Wood, informing her that the publisher had just bought the novel: “I am delighted. I am also eager for the full manuscript and eager as well to meet you…” She shares her insights about the “less-is-more” approach to fiction writing: “did some research on desert life. Again, it’s the small touches that infuse the narrative with detailed images…better than the generic.”
GRAFTON, Sue (b. 1940). “A” is for Alibi. A Kinsey Millhouse Mystery. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1982. 8°. Original gray cloth; dust jacket. Numerous letters and drawings tipped on to front and rear flyleaves and pastedowns.