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i is for innocent

13 april 2012

I is for Innocent is an intriguing title for a murder mystery. When you think about it, unless we're talking Murder on the Orient Express, most characters in a murder mystery turn out to be innocent. The establishment of innocence is perhaps the most common event in crime fiction. You're on safe ground advertising innocence in your title – even if, as in I is for Innocent, you employ the old device of "He looks so guilty he must be innocent, OMG he's guilty after all."

Most Kinsey Millhone stories, like most private eye stories in general, start with a missing person; murder is the province of the police procedural. I is for Innocent starts with a murder case in which the prime suspect has been acquitted. Since the state can't try him twice, the victim's ex-husband decides to sue the suspect for wrongful death. Our heroine enters the case when the PI who had been entrusted with assembling the preponderance of evidence keels over from an apparent heart attack.

There's too much wrong with this case to go into here; its difficulties spill out over the boundaries of a 200-page novel. As usual, elements that look too baffling to casual observers, and too pat to the police, shift around in kaleidoscopic patterns for Millhone, till she's looking straight at the only possible solution.

I is for Innocent is more of a whodunit than most Kinsey Millhones, and has less of the sinister in it than many of Grafton's other early novels. As I alluded above, things in this novel really are what they seem, after a period of being not at all what they seem, and our faith in the essential innocence of most people is reestablished. Meanwhile, it's one of those detective novels where just by virtue of investigating, the PI always becomes the likeliest next victim. Kinsey gets away with barely a crease in her one black dress, but for a while there, it's touch and go.

Grafton, Sue. I is for Innocent. New York: Holt, 1992.