Sue Grafton’s mystery novel "A" is for Alibi was published in 1982 and is notable for its down-to-earth portrayal of the female private investigator Kinsey Millhone. The novel is part of a series of mysteries called the “Alphabet Mysteries,” so called because of Grafton’s use of letters of the alphabet (published in alphabetical order, no less) to begin the title of each book. Hence, "A" is for Alibi is the first novel in this series. As of 2014, 23 novels had been published in Alphabet series (through the letter “W”), with the twenty-fourth set for release in August 2015.
"A" is for Alibi begins with the prison release of a character named Nikki Fife, who has just finished serving eight years for the murder of her husband, successful divorce attorney Laurence Fife. Nikki, maintaining her innocence, hires Millhone to track down the real killer of her husband.
The novel has twists and turns, of course, as all mysteries do, but eventually Millhone discovers that Laurence Fife’s ex-wife Gwen, with whom he was having an affair, committed the murder. Throughout the novel Millhone investigates the old fashioned way, pre-Internet, by conducting interviews and research and networking. There is also a sub-plot in which Millhone works as an investigator for an insurance company and discovers a case of fraud.
During the murder investigation, Millhone develops a romantic interest in Laurence Fife’s former partner, Charlie Scorsoni. Having already confessed to the reader that she does not make very good decisions in the romance department, the relationship seems destined for disaster. Scorsoni turns out to be guilty of murdering his accountant because of her discovery of his embezzlement scheme. Millhone uncovers this information, and the book’s climactic final scene depicts a chase as Charlie hunts her down along the beach. Millhone ends up hiding ingloriously amid piles of garbage in a trash bin, and when Charlie finds her and opens the lid, Millhone says:
I blew him away.
The novel ends with a brief epilogue that ties up a few loose ends but also expresses Millhone’s regret at being forced to kill someone for the first time:
You try to keep life simple but it never works, and in the end all you have left is yourself.
"A" is for Alibi also features several recurring characters that populate other titles in the series.