SUE GRAFTON – “A” is for Alibi. Holt Rinehart & Winston, hardcover, April 1982. Bantam, paperback, 1982. Reprinted many times, in both hardcover and soft.


   A classic, of course, but I hadn’t read it until now. It far outclasses the other two or three I’ve sampled in the series.

   Alibi takes every hardboiled device and turns it inside out with a female protagonist. Sleeping with a sexy suspect? Check. Obsession with some kind of justice? Check.

   Facing down sexy suspect, with no qualms? Check. But it’s not Sam Spade, it’s Kinsey Milhone. And that forces the reader to think about gender and genre expectations.

   It’s not just the concept that’s excellent; craft is necessary for the concept to succeed. Here’s a nice passage from page 150 of the Bantam paperback (an edition riddled with typos):

    “For a man of eighty-one, Henry Pitts has an amazing set of legs. He also has a wonderful beaky nose, a thin aristocratic face, shocking white hair, and eyes that are periwinkle blue. The overall effect is very sexy, electric, and the photographs I’ve seen of him in his youth don’t even half compare. At twenty and thirty and forty, Henry’s face seems too full, too unformed. As the decades pass, the pictures begin to reveal a man growing lean and fierce, until now he seems totally concentrated, like a basic stock boiled down to a rich elixir.”

   While the 1980s time frame feels historic now, the story feels freshly told. And that’s what defines a classic.