Book Critique – "C" is for Corpse (Alphabet Mystery #3)

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. 

"C" is for Corpse is the third mystery novel in the long running Kinsey Millhone "Alphabet Mystery" series by Sue Grafton, first published in 1986. The plot is set three weeks after the incidents from the second book "B" is for Burglar.

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, thirty two years old and twice divorced, 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.

Kinsey Millhone meets Bobby Callahan at the gym where both are undergoing rehabilitation exercises to get their bodies back into motion. Bobby hires Kinsey to find out who had originally attempted to kill him almost causing his death nine months ago and why. As the investigation proceeds, true to Bobby's paranoia he gets killed successfully the second time around. Kinsey had never shied from a case. And now she was not about to when her client had been killed. This becomes more than just an ordinary case for Kinsey. 

In the previous book, "B" is for Burglar, Kinsey Millhone gets injured and hurt by the antagonists of that plot and was debating to go to Boca Raton and take up on Julia Ochsner's offer to stay and recuperate. I assumed author Grafton would take us to Boca Raton for this next plot. But instead she keeps Millhone in California itself. May be because private eyes cannot practice in states they are not licensed, she couldn’t come up with a plot that would allow her to investigate in Boca Raton and so continued here. Only a guess!

Millhone takes many painstaking steps just to get simple information which we could get now just by a few clicks. Some of them are - laboriously go through archived newspapers on film and in print at the library; waiting for relevant documents to arrive by physical mail.

Grafton goes into lot more details in the investigation, as well as the personal lives of the characters involved or locations we come across. Some times they are so much in-detail that this plot bordered on becoming an essay. Yet, she managed to get me to shed tears at a couple of scenes. I must say though, Grafton made it a much more sinister plot than it was at the beginning, as she neared the end. Hairs on my arms rose as I was reading the last chapters. 

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 1986, 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.

It is rarely that I see authors acknowledging and crediting the media and literary references they use in their books. Grafton credits two musical works in the beginning of the book, giving their copyright information as well - 1926 song Someone to Watch Over Me composed by George Gershwin with lyrics penned by Ira Gershwin. It was written for the 1926 Broadway play Oh, Kay!. 

And 1944 song Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive composed by Harold Arlen and lyrics penned by Johnny Mercer. It was used in the 1944 American romantic comedy film Here Come The Waves that garnered it the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Here is the version from that film sung by Bing Crosby.

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

i. Kinsey wonders if Kim Novak was pushed out of a similar bell tower that she sees on Callahan's property. I am sure she is referring to the 1958 American psychological film noir thriller Vertigo by Alfred Hitchcock and starring James Stewart along-side Novak. 

ii. Kinsey and Glen drink a whisky with the brand name Cutty Sark. Never heard of it, but the bottle seems interesting, when I made a search of it. 

b. Bobby Callahan's family and acquaintances: Glen Callahan, mother; Derek Wenner, step-father; Katherine "Kitty", his step-sister; Dr. Leo Kleinert, psychiatrist, & his wife Ann; Varden Talbot, attorney; Dr. Jim Fraker, pathologist, & his wife Nola; Dr. Metcalf; Sufi Daniels, surgical nurse.

c. Callahan's staff: Callie; Alicia.

d. Other people Kinsey meets along her investigation: Lila Sams, dating her landlord Henry Pitts; Kelly Borden, attendant at the city morgue; Reva & Phil Bergen, Bobby's friend Rick's parents; Carrie St. Cloud, Bobby's ex-girlfriend; Gus, works at the skate-rental place.

e. Kinsey was married twice before and divorced. One of them happens to be the jazz pianist Daniel Wade whom we come across as a reference in a conversation in this plot. More of her life as a child are revealed in this plot. 

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; Deputy Collins; Detective Whiteside; Officer G. Pettigrew; Officer M. Gutierrez; 

c. Kinsey's other colleagues from California Fidelity Agency (CFI) & it's subsidiaries - Vera Lipton; Pam Sharkey; Daryl Hobbs, manager at Lambeth & Creek ; Andy Montyeka, manager at CFI;

d. In the second book, "B" is for Burglar, Mrs. Julia Ochsner suggests that she and Kinsey should form a partnership in investigation. Will it happen?

e. Other folks who continue to appear: Rosie, owner of Rosie's a restaurant; Mrs. Moza Lowenstein.

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

a. On Pg. 44, Line 3 from bottom, it should be "…a shade of orange…"

b. In the beginning of the Pg. 109, Grafton made it look like that Bobby stayed with Carrie for a couple of days to help her during the abortion. But towards the end of the same page it looks like he didn’t stay more than a day with Carrie before he was involved in the accident. 

c. On Pages 112 and 113, in the conversation between Gus and Kinsey, nowhere the topic of the little red leather book comes up. But on Pg. 140, Gus says that he didn’t remember about the book until Kinsey brought it up. 


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