`E' is for Evidence, by Sue Grafton. New York: Henry Holt. 227 pp. $15.95. First there was ```A' is for Alibi,'' then there was ```B' is for Burglar,'' ```C' is for Corpse,'' and ```D' is for Deadbeat.'' Now there is ```E' is for Evidence,'' Sue Grafton's fifth Kinsey Millhone mystery novel.
The titles may be a bit gimmicky, but Kinsey is not. She is a hard-boiled private eye and former policewoman who lives in southern California. A 32-year-old, twice-divorced loner, she is sharp, sassy, and straightforward.
Her job investigating a fire claim at a warehouse seems routine until Kinsey is accused of falsifying the insurance report in exchange for $5,000. Her only defense against the frame-up is to solve the case. In so doing, Kinsey meets up with one of her former husbands and an old school friend whose family owns the warehouse.
Kinsey's relationship with her friend's family doesn't ring true, yet the novel is engrossing, the writing is snappy, and Kinsey, as always, is a delight.
Fans will enjoy finding out more about her past, but they will miss some of the characters who added color to the earlier novels: Henry, her courtly, elderly landlord; Jonah, a policeman who is Kinsey's lover; and Rosie, the eccentric owner of Kinsey's favorite neighborhood restaurant. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Underworld, by Reginald Hill. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 280 pp. $14.95.
Reginald Hill regularly combines psychological insight, social commentary, and humor with vivid characterization, intelligent writing, and suspenseful plots. His latest Dalziel-Pascoe mystery novel continues this pattern.
The title, ``Underworld,'' refers to the world of miners, and many of the narrative threads in this intricately woven story originate in Burrthorpe, a mining community in Yorkshire, England.
Hill uses Burrthorpe to highlight a recurring theme in his novels, the conflict between differing educational, class, and social attitudes, and between the interests of the police and society. These conflicts are epitomized by the personalities of his Mid-Yorkshire CID detectives, Detective-Superintendent Andrew Dalziel, whose vulgar, tactless, blustery manner conceals a shrewd mind and a compassionate heart, and Inspector Peter Pascoe, who, despite his university education and gentlemanly sensitivity, can be obtuse about other people, especially about his wife, Ellie.
Ellie's liberal, feminist attitudes are frequently in conflict with her husband's more conservative point of view as a policeman. This conflict escalates when Ellie, who is teaching a university extension course for miners, befriends one of her students, a Burrthorpe man named Colin Farr.
Several years earlier a Burrthorpe girl named Tracey Pedley disappeared. The police concluded that she was another victim of Donald Pickford, a self-confessed child molester and murderer who committed suicide. Some thought that Colin's father, Billy, killed Tracey, and this suspicion was strengthened by Billy's apparent suicide.
Now a reporter claims to have uncovered new evidence in the Pickford case, evidence that incriminates Billy Farr and casts aspersions on the competence of the Mid-Yorks CID. Tensions mount in Burrthorpe, in the Pascoe home, and in the Mid-Yorks CID until a Burrthorpe miner is murdered, and suspicion falls on Colin Farr.
``Underworld'' is enjoyable entertainment with a social conscience. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Collected Stories, by Ruth Rendell. New York, Pantheon Books. 536 pp. $19.95.
Yet another sign of Ruth Rendell's growing importance (as well as her prolificacy) in the world of mystery fiction is the publication of this first omnibus volume of her short stories. The 38 stories, including the two that won her the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Award, are reprinted from four previously published collections, ``The Fallen Curtain,'' ``Means of Evil,'' ``The Fever Tree,'' and ``The New Girl Friend.''
Just as Rendell writes two kinds of novels, so she writes two kinds of short stories, traditional mysteries featuring Chief Inspector Wexford and psychological suspense stories. Both kinds of stories display her skills in creating suspense, atmosphere, and sympathetic characters. This volume contains five Wexford stories. The remaining 33 stories are of the darker, psychological variety.
``The Convolvulus Clock,'' which was included in ``John Creasey's Crime Collection 1987,'' is a typical psychological story, in which an ordinary person, placed in out-of-the-ordinary circumstances, gives in to the darker side of her nature, often with tragic results.
Elderly Trixie steals a clock from a gallery. Her pangs of conscience and her fear of discovery are so great that she eventually causes the death of a friend and has a mental breakdown.
Short stories, especially those in the mystery genre, can make perfect bedside-table reading matter. Rendell's stories, however, may be too unsettling to produce pleasant dreams. But any Rendell fan would want this volume on his or her bookshelf.