A is for Awful

A is for Alibi
By Sue Grafton

Narrated by Mary Pieffer

Books on Tape, Inc.

7.60 hours

This was a Sounds Like a Mystery (SLAM) group selection for the June 2010 discussion. I got my copy of the audiobook from the Jackson County Library System. The cover was different and, correctly identified the reader as Mary Pieffer; but this is the cover art currently used both by Random House Audio, Inc and audible.com. This review was originally published on goodreads.com before I had my blog set up.

This is the first of Sue Grafton’s Alphabet series featuring Kinsey Millhone, a private investigator based in Santa Teresa, CA. In this book, Kinsey Millhone is hired by a woman (who has been convicted for the homicide of her husband) to find out who really killed her husband. It was okay, except for three problems: Mary Pieffer, Kinsey Millhone and, Sue Grafton:

  • Mary Pieffer (the narrator:) This is an older recording (1993) and narration styles were different then. Attention was paid to verbatim and neutral interpretation of the text. So maybe, in 1993, listeners found this recording acceptable and even commendable; but now, the narration is annoying. The narrator’s voice was colorless and sometimes it sounded like a computer reading.
  • Kinsey Millhone (the protagonist:) Ewww! She doesn’t like dogs, likes the smell of her own sweat and, she likes small, dreary, cheap spaces. She’s supposed to come across as tough, but I thought of her as crass and belligerent. Seriously, by the time of the climatic action scene in the water, I really didn’t care if Kinsey made it or not. Actually, that’s not true. I was kind of hoping she’d get swept out to sea. [And no, I don’t consider this a spoiler since we know Kinsey makes it to appear in 20 more novels to date!]
  • Sue Grafton (the author:) In creating an unlikable heroine who gives the reader/listener no opportunity to invest any enthusiasm for the protag, I am surprised that SG has generated a following of readers willing to follow her through to “U!” In A IS FOR ALIBI, the writer tips off “whodunnit” almost immediately (which makes Kinsey look stupid for not picking up on this) and, has her protag immediately investigate “the homicide of [the accountant]” as opposed to “the death of [the accountant].” Maybe this was all innovative (in terms of writing style and mystery plots) in 1988, but it doesn’t work for me now.


I’ve been told that some titles are better than others; that Judy Kaye is a better narrator and, that I should give the series another chance; but really, I have a ton of other books and audiobooks that sound more appealing, so I’ll pass.

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2 thoughts on “A is for Awful

  1. I read this book when we lived in France in the 1980s and I enjoyed it. Of course, I was desperate for anything written in English a the time and found myself reading lots of things I normally wouldn't have. Sorry it didn't work for you.

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  2. I might have enjoyed this book more when it was first published in 1982. At that time, I would have been new to the contemporary mystery genre and might have found the plot interesting and, maybe even cinematic in scope. Had the audiobook been produced then, I might have even lauded the narrator for her clear voice and neutrality. And, I might have even continued with the series because at the time I was a big “see the series through” kind of girl (hence a long, stupid reading relationship with The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice – because I refused to call it quits!) But I have to tell you, that I really disliked Kinsey Millhone and there's no getting around the fact that if I don't like the protag, if I can't feel any sympathy for the protag, if I actually develop an intense dislike for the protag to the point I want the bad guys to win or at least have the the protag to die or be seriously maimed, then the the book/series is a no-go for me.

    I understand the Sue Grafton has continued to set her Kinsey Millhone series in the eighties; and hopefully her writing style isn't also stuck in the past as well. I don't think A IS FOR ALIBI has held up very well over time.

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