David Barney has no shortage of enemies, all still holding him responsible for the murder nearly seven years ago of his wife, a distinguished architect named Isabelle. The fact that a court cleared him has not diminished their hatred. Indeed, he's now facing a wrongful-death suit intended to strip him of the money and property left by his millionaire bride.
The plaintiff in the civil case, Isabelle's former husband, Ken Voight, seeks to assemble enough evidence to prove David Barney in some way contributed to his wife's death. To acquire that proof, Voight hires Kinsey Millhone, Grafton's wry veteran detective.
"I" Is for Innocent is the ninth Grafton novel to feature Millhone and the first to break from previous form. The earlier alphabet mysteries followed Kinsey as she caught the case, separated clues from chaos and wrapped the solution, all the while dealing with the nagging problems of her own single life.
Grafton structures "I" like a courtroom drama while spending as little time as possible inside a courtroom. Millhone, for roughly the first third of the book, pursues the case like a prosecutor, then reconsiders as the evidence begins suggesting other possibilities and finally speeds off toward rebuttal and solution. It's a refreshing change, one that strengthens the already excellent series.
Grafton has created a fair share of double-edged foes opposing David Barney, all of whom miss either Isabelle or the comfort her money provided. Millhone confronts and deals with them all, as always, on terms suitable solely to her way of thinking and working. Each answer moves her further into complications that suggest a murderer on the loose, eager to kill again.
Only nine letters into her projected series of 26 alphabet books, Grafton is setting a standard that's going to prove difficult for others in her crowded field to match, let alone surpass. (Henry Holt, $18.95)