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Literature / Kinsey Millhone

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Kinsey Millhone is a series of mystery novels sometimes referred to as the 'Alphabet Mysteries', created by Sue Grafton. They follow the titular Kinsey Millhone, a private investigator in the fictional Santa Teresa, California. Reportedly: "Kinsey is 5'6" and weighs about 118 pounds. She has short, dark, thick hair that she trims with nail scissors, being generally uninterested in her physical appearance."

Each book is named for letters of the alphabet, the final one being "Y" is for Yesterday. The series began in 1982 and ended in 2017, though in universe only six years had passed. The final book was to be published in 2019; it would have been called "Z" is for Zero and have taken place in 1990. Sadly, Grafton's passing in December 2017 (and lack of interest in working with a ghostwriter) meant that Y would be Kinsey's final adventure.

The books in the series are:

Provides Examples Of:

  • The Aloner: Kinsey herself. Twice divorced, no kids, no pets, and no interest in altering the arrangement, although she does form increasingly close friendships with colleagues and neighbours as the series goes on.
  • Alphabetical Theme Naming: See the list above.
  • Asshole Victim: Quite frequently, Kinsey winds up digging for the truth behind the murder of one of these. Standouts include an alcoholic bigamist who beat up his second wife and killed a car full of people, including children while driving drunk, and a Ponzi scheme perpetrator who faked his own death, abandoned his wife and children without leaving them a cent, and absconded with the cash of hundreds of investors, many of whom lost everything.
  • Ax-Crazy: Pat Usher/Marty Grice.
  • Clear My Name: Kinsey is accused of conspiring to commit insurance fraud in "E" is for Evidence and has to go about trying to exonerate herself. It's made a bit harder when California Fidelity suspends their working relationship over it.
  • Cool Old Guy: Kinsey's neighbor and landlord Henry is definitely one of these.
  • Costume Porn: The outfit of every character will be described every time you meet them.
  • Deceased Parents Are the Best: Averted. Kinsey's parents died in a car crash when she was five. She was in the car with them. She makes no bones about the fact that it screwed her up for life.
  • Description Porn
  • Defective Detective: Kinsey considers herself one.
  • Dirty Cop: Lt. Priddy from "V" is for Vengeance. It comes back to bite him in the ass when Dante, who had fled the country, throws him under the bus by having Kinsey get the former's crimes (and attempt to take over the latter's operation) exposed one way or another.
  • Dirty Harriet: Kinsey would have been this if she hadn't quit the police force and gone freelance.
  • A Dog Named "Dog": "H" is for Homicide features a dog named Perro... Spanish for "Dog".
    • In "U" is for Undertow, there was a wolfdog named Ulf, which is from the Old Norse word for "wolf".
  • Even Evil Has Standards: From "V" is for Vengeance, Dante is a mob boss with a code of honor.
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: Frequently.
  • Fake Pregnancy: A character in "L" is for Lawless does this, hiding money inside a fake belly. Kinsey figures it out after finding tampons in the woman's purse.
  • Family Theme Naming/Floral Theme Naming: The Wood family in "E" is for Evidence. The Wood women are named Ash, Ebony, and Olive, all kinds of tree/wood.
  • First-Person Smartass: Kinsey can be a cynical piece of work and it shows up in the narration.
  • Friend on the Force: Jonah.
  • Giving Them the Strip: Towards the end of "A Is For Alibi", Kinsey is forced to remove her shoes and take off her pants to escape the story's main killer.
  • Good is Not Nice: Kinsey, a great detective and an overall good person, does have some jerkass tendencies. Her salty mouth and her overall loner personality doesn't help.
  • Immediate Sequel: B Is For Burglar takes place almost two weeks after the ending of A Is For Alibi although it's not really established until about 6 chapters in, when Kinsey mentions how just two weeks ago she killed her persuer.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Kinsey. Despite her anti-social tendencies, casual approach to the law, and willingness to manipulate and lie to people to get what she wants, she really does take her clients' cases to heart, does her best to see justice done, and will go to hell and back for her loved ones.
    • Rosie, the owner of a local restaurant Kinsey frequents and eventual sister-in-law to Henry, is brash, bossy, and abrasive, but really wants the best for Kinsey.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • At the end of "V" is for Vengeance, Dante, who gains points for being a sympathetic character, flees the country with his girlfriend.
    • Renata Huff in "J" is for Judgement is implied to be one of these in the epilogue.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: Despite being nimble, smart, and in good physical shape, Kinsey is not a superhero and this shows repeatedly in the series. More often than not, books end with her being hunted by a desperate criminal ready to kill to protect their secrets, and she has to run and hide until she can either escape the situation or get her hands on a weapon.
  • Likes Older Men / Likes Older Women:
    • Kinsey finds her eighty-year-old landlord quite sexy, and wonders whether the fifty year age difference would be a hindrance to a relationship.
    • Lawrence Fife, the victim in "A" is for Alibi, had a liking for older women.
    • Anna Dace, a distant relative of Kinsey’s, who is 12 years Kinsey’s junior, shows some attraction towards Cheney Phillips in "W" is for Wasted.
  • Long-Runners: Had 25 books in 35 years.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: In almost every book. As an example, "D is for Deadbeat" starts with a bounced check and ends with a murder-suicide.
  • Missing Mom: Kinsey has to find one of these in S is for Silence.
  • Motive Rant: Not every book has it, but sometimes Kinsey will have pushed her target so far around the bend that they'll calmly and methodically expound on all their evil deeds to her, either while trying to kill her or while preparing to commit suicide.
  • Odd Name Out:Every book follows the "(letter) is for (noirish word)" name scheme except for the second to last, called simply "X".
  • Off with His Head!: Mark Bethel's fate in O is for Outlaw.
  • Private Detective: Kinsey's a private investigator.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Dante from "V" is for Vengeance is this by mob standards, even agreeing to take Phillip's car to satisfy his gambling debt in the first chapter and later proving himself A Father to His Men. His brother Cappi, though, is a through-and-through nasty piece of work, double-crossing Phillip as soon as they get to the car and murdering a seasoned shoplifter who he has reason to believe will tell the police everything, among other acts of puppy-punting.
  • Scenery Porn: Grafton often describes and explains the back story to different parts of the fictional Santa Teresa.
  • Shout-Out: Grafton set her books in Santa Teresa as an homage to Ross Macdonald, who created the fictional city as the setting for his Lew Archer novels.
  • The Snark Knight: Kinsey, as expected of a hard-nosed lady P.I. She tends to keep it to herself, see under First-Person Smartass, but she's more than capable of cutting loose face-to-face.
  • The Sneaky Guy: Kinsey's very good at this, and more than once it's the only thing that's saved her life.
  • Steel Eardrums: Averted. Kinsey is forced to shoot a man in self-defense at the end of the first book, and her ears don't stop ringing for weeks. It's later mentioned that she never gets all her hearing back. The fact that she was hiding in a metal trash can probably didn't help matters.
  • The Sociopath: In T is for Trespass, the major antagonist Solana is one.
    • Brian Jaffe.
  • The Stoic: Kinsey describes herself as one.
  • Supporting Protagonist: Kinsey describes herself as one at the end of R is for Ricochet, with Reba Lafferty being the actual heroine.
  • That One Case: "Q is for Quarry" has Kinsey help a couple of aging cop buddies solve one of these. Grafton also based the story on a real-life unsolved murder and appealed for help solving the cold case in a note at the book's end.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Guy Malek was one of the kindest characters in the series, and Kinsey found him the most likeable out of his family too. Then he gets bludgeoned to death midway through his story.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Kinsey and her Quarter Pounders with cheese.
    • And her peanut butter 'n' pickle sandwiches.
  • Villainous Rescue: That injury Kinsey sustained to the face on her 38th birthday? That was Dante saving her life.
  • Webcomic Time: Over thirty years have passed since the first book was written, but only a handful of years have passed in the books themselves.
  • Who Murdered the Asshole: Perhaps most prominently with John Daggett of "D is for Deadbeat". Literally nobody liked the guy and almost everyone in his life had a reason to want him dead.

Respectively submitted,
Kinsey Millhone