Book Critique – "B" is for Burglar (Alphabet Mystery #2)

For review of all books in this series: Go here.

Stars: 3 / 5

My Recommendation: Another successful investigation by Kinsey Millhone rivaling the likes of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, but not yet there. Grafton gives us a female gumshoe with her share of flaws and strengths that further more enhances her character. 

"B" is for Burglar is the second mystery novel in the long running Kinsey Millhone "Alphabet Mystery" series by Sue Grafton, first published in May of 1985. The plot is set two weeks after the incidents in the first book - "A" is for Alibi.

The Alphabet Mystery series revolves around the various cases handled by Kinsey Millhone, a former police officer turned private investigator. She is based in Santa Teresa, a fictional town in California, and thirty two years old at the beginning of the series. With this series, Sue Grafton sets a bar for female private investigators in a world when most of them were predominantly male. And if any female private eyes existed, were considered amateur detectives like with Nancy Drew or Jessica Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote or Agatha Christie's Miss Marple. Grafton crosses those bars for Millhone with this series.

Beverly Danziger hires Kinsey Millhone to find her sister, Elaine Boldt. Elaine left her condo in Santa Teresa for her condo in Boca Raton, FL. She never arrived there. And now for Kinsey, a simple missing persons case turns into a more puzzling and sinister plot involving a torched house; a murder by a burglar; and an apartment being ransacked; all leading Kinsey towards a Murder rather than a case of Missing. 

I was not super impressed by the first book, "A" is for Alibi. But this book gave me a new perspective on the way Grafton was projecting her gumshoe and her approach towards the plot. Also since it was written in 1985, a good 35 years ago, it gives me a fresh appreciation for several things that we take for granted now; scared at the way we have data at hands now; and how many painstaking steps Millhone had to take just to get simple information which we could get now just by a few clicks.

Some of the painstaking steps Millhone takes in her investigation - physically goes to the local newspaper office or library and study the archives; physically sending letters of request for information to several businesses during the investigation; endless phone calls.

Kinsey Millhone is a much stronger investigative agent than many amateur female detectives that we come across. Of course Kinsey has a background in law enforcement. However, I have read books that show us the sheer absurdity and utter stupidity of those investigators or private eyes. Kinsey is gradually evolving to come closer to the famous male gumshoes such as Phillip Marlowe, Ellery Queen, Sam Spade and others. 

With the book written in 1985, I see glimpses of the past that I have lived or heard or seen on media through out the plot. However, for a book written in the early 80s, I was surprised to see a lot of words that would otherwise be considered very bold language for that period.

The mundane droning that Grafton had in her first book had toned down considerably. She still has them but she made them a bit elevated and clubbed them with the investigatory procedure her character Kinsey uses. That made more sense now. However, Grafton describe every single character in a rather lengthy detail such as what they wore, their facial features, their surroundings, etc. Not sure if that is needed for every character.

Another successful investigation by Kinsey Millhone rivaling the likes of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, but not yet there. Grafton gives us a female gumshoe with her share of flaws and strengths that further more enhances her character. Now that I am liking her, I cant wait to read the next book in the series soon.

Spoiler Alerts:

1. Plot Reveals:

a. Elaine's family and friends: Beverly Danziger, sister & her husband Aubrey; Tillie Ahlberg, manager of her Santa Teresa's condo; Roland Makowski, her Boca Raton condo's manager, & his wife Charmaine; Elaine's neighbors - Leonard Grice & his sister Lily Howe, Mrs. Julia Ochsner, Orris & Maie Snyder, Leonard's nephew Mike; Charlie "Ming" Mingus, Elaine's cat.

b. Mrs. Julia Ochsner suggests that she and Kinsey should form a partnership in investigation. Will it happen?

c. Kinsey is injured and hurt by the criminals at the end of the plot and is debating to go to Boca Raton and take up on Julia Ochsner's offer to stay and recuperate.

d. Media, Books, Cooking & other references in the plot: 

i. Cluedo game and specifically in relation to Mrs. Peacock; 

ii. Henry Pitts is a baker and makes some delicious concoctions in the plot - Napoleon,  French pastry; 

iii. Tillie does a type of quilting called Trapunto. It was interesting that she uses cotton from pill bottles as stuffing. More about it here.

2. Sub-Plots: 

a. Kinsey's family & friends: Two friends who live in Claremont, CA - Gideon and Nell and their two kids; landlord Henry Pitts, a baker and crossword puzzle creator; (her parents had been killed when she was a child); 

b. Law Enforcement that Kinsey comes across: Patrolman Benedict; Officer Isabella Redfern; Sergeant Jonah Robb; Lieutenant Dolan; Sergeant Spillman; 

c. Kinsey's other colleagues from California Fidelity Agency (CFI) & it's subsidiaries - Vera Lipton; Pam Sharkey; Daryl Hobbs, manager t Lambeth & Creek ; Andy Montyeka, manager at CFI;

3. Grammatical / Character / Plot / Geographical / Historical / Mythological Errors:

a. On Pg. 7, Line 10 from bottom, the opening quote is not required.

b. On Pg. 63, Line 19, shouldn’t it be "…the caller that I am…"

c. On Pg. 162, Line 23, it should be "…came in March and…"

d. On Pg. 190, Line 3 from bottom, shouldn’t it be "…now didn’t that just…"


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