Sue Grafton died on Thursday, having almost made it through the alphabet.
For those of you unfamiliar with Sue, she started writing the alphabet series of mysteries, featuring private eye Kinsey Millhone, in the 1980s. She began with A is for Alibi, published in 1982, and her most recent, Y is for Yesterday, was released last August.
Not long after A’s release, I discovered Grafton’s books and her main character Kinsey. Kinsey, orphaned young and raised by a stern maiden aunt, is a very engaging character. She’s a minimalist in many ways, living in small tidy spaces, driving an ancient VW bug, having an “all purpose black dress” that she could use for any occasion requiring attire more formal than her customary blue jeans. At the same time, she’s very organized in managing her information, and dogged in her pursuit of information, certainly willing to skirt technicalities to get the information she seeks.
Over the years, relationships came and went, romantic and otherwise. New characters arrived, including her landlord, Henry Pitts, a retired baker, still vibrant in his nineties along with his equally elderly and quirky siblings. Over the years, we also met various relatives of Kinsey’s, often meeting them for the first time along with Kinsey as she attempted to solve the mystery of her origins along with whatever the “official” mystery presented in a given book.
Like many good mystery series, I find that I am as much interested in the characters in a book as in the solution of the crime. With Grafton’s books, she created a world that I would happily enter, with an array of interesting and quirky characters, venues that were both familiar and changing, and a problem or 3 to be solved. Over the years, the main characters become friends, people with whom I have a history, if only in my imagination.
Sue Grafton chose not to allow her books to be made into TV shows or movies, keeping them in the realm of reading. I have listened to a few on audiobooks, and they are lots of fun. BA and I recall sitting in a parked car finishing out a chapter on a road trip. Likewise, we still imitate Henry’s quavering voice singing Happy Birthday to Kinsey as he serves her his famous cinnamon rolls. To me, that’s quite a legacy.
I discovered of Grafton’s passing on the NPR website, https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/12/29/574659653/sue-grafton-bestselling-author-of-kinsey-millhone-alphabet-mysteries-dies-at-77 .I’m sad that we have reached the end of the line for this engaging series. I think I shall savor the pages I have remaining in Y, and these are stories that I enjoy re-reading, and it occurs to me that some audio versions may cheer up some otherwise dull indoor bike rides this winter. Thank you, Sue Grafton for the gift of story and character you gave to so many of us. Along with A for Alibi and Almost, I’m going to add an A for Admirable.