Sue Grafton the legendary mystery fiction writer died of cancer on December 28th. She is known for her alphabet series, using the strategy of alphabet titles for her novels. She based the idea on Edward Gorey’s gruesome alphabet picture book, The Gashlycrumb Tinies. Unfortunately she never finished the alphabet and as her daughter noted, in Grafton’s universe the alphabet ended with “Y.”
Grafton once stated to me, “My character Kinsey Milhone is my alter ego. I always think we are one soul in two bodies and she got the better one. I think of her as the person I might have been had I not married young and had children. She is my unlived life, all the adventures I never embarked on. I am not as shy and a loner as Kinsey and much more domesticated. When I started the series I was 42 and she was 32. Now almost 35 years later she is 38 years old and I am 75. Often I feel she’s peering over my shoulder, whispering, nudging me and making bawdy remarks. It amuses me that I invented someone who has gone on to support me. It amuses her, I’m sure, that she will live in this world long after I’m gone.”
How apropos that she realized that her character would live on forever. Rumor has it that Grafton planned to call her last novel Z is for Zero. But unfortunately, that is just what fans will get, a nothing feeling, not able to look forward to another book. They can only go back and read the previous books to get their enjoyment.
Many bestselling authors also expressed their sadness at the news even though they never had the opportunity to meet her personally. These include Catherine Anderson, C.J. Box, Christina Dodd, Anne Elizabeth, Alex Grecian, Laura Griffin, Alex Kava, Brad Taylor, and Beatriz Williams.
Below are accounts of how other fiction writers felt about Sue Grafton’s passing and her influences on them.
Tilly Bagshawe upholds Sidney Sheldon’s legacy by taking over the writing of his characters with riveting stories. She stated, “While I can’t claim to have been directly or consciously influenced by her books, I definitely admired Sue Grafton both as a writer and as a human being. She was a feminist and an individualist who lived life entirely on her own terms, back in a time when that was harder to do, and all of those qualities were reflected in her writing. As far as I am aware, Kinsey Millhone was the first female detective to be the heroine of a series. Simply having a female PI was wildly innovative back in the eighties, something that seems incredible now. Sue has spoken about the ways in which she saw herself in Kinsey, and I am sure that that deep personal investment in the character is one of the things that attracted so many readers to the alphabet series. I suspect it also contributed to Sue’s reluctance to hand over any part of her work to Hollywood. It would have felt like selling a child. She will be missed by many, but her spirit of resilience, determination and independence lives on and will continue to inspire the next generation of women crime writers.
Rhys Bowen is known for her different mystery series including the Molly Murphy mysteries, the Evan Evans series, In Farleigh Field, and the Royal Spyness series. She considered “Sue a trailblazer for every female mystery writer. Her heroine was not a nice little old lady but a kickass broad who carried a gun. She was one of three women who changed the way female mystery writers and their sleuths were perceived. What staying power, 25 books and no dropping off of quality. After her we could write anything we wanted. She was kind, generous and acted like one of the guys, not in any way like a super star.”
William E. Butterworth IV has been an editor and writer for more than 25 years, working closely with his legendary father, W.E. B. Griffin, including the informative Clandestine WWII Operation series. “Unfortunately we are at the age where the people we always thought were going to be around forever . . . aren’t. Many of my friends have parents and other family members suffering some health issues, mostly that insidious cancer. And now Sue Grafton passes? A tragedy to lose such a terrific talent so young. My father and I did not know her personally – somewhat typical of the life of writers as we spend the vast majority of our time in dark quiet places – but he agreed with me that we certainly appreciate her masterful storytelling. What I most enjoyed about her work is that I read her like I read one of my longtime favorite authors, John D. MacDonald, which is to say for pleasure.”
Laura Childs is known for her ‘Tea Shop mystery series.’ She remembers being a fan of Sue “right from the get-go. When A is for Alibi was released in 1982, I read it in one evening and was forever hooked on her alphabet series. At that point, I hadn’t started writing fiction yet – I had just launched my ad agency. But I knew that, eventually, I would also have a career as a fiction writer. So I kept reading Sue’s books and studying them, too. My first read-through would be for pure pleasure, while the second would be to pull it apart. Where does her first turning point occur? How did she raise the stakes? How did she pull it all together at the end? Sue was one of the mystery greats who became one of my teachers and influencers.”
Reed Coleman has taken over the writings of the Jesse Stone Series of another legendary author who died too early besides having his own hit series. “I have written several series and I want people to know that it’s difficult to keep it fresh and alive even if there are only five books in the series. It is a remarkable achievement to have kept a series and a single character interesting and popular for twenty-five novels. For that alone, Sue Grafton deserves our respect and praise.”
Catherine Coulter is the New York Times bestselling author of 75 books and is best known for her FBI thriller series. Although she never met Sue personally she noted how much “I enjoyed her books. I appreciated she wrote the book in 1987 before the Internet and technology changed everything and led to multitudinous headaches for non-technical writers. She will be missed.”
Meg Gardiner has written a number of successful crime novel series. Her latest is ‘The UNSUB series’ about serial killers. She believes that there are many mystery novelists that were motivated by Grafton. “Sue, more than any other author, inspired me to write crime fiction. Once I picked up A Is for Alibi, I fell in love with Kinsey Millhone. I couldn’t get enough of Sue’s novels. And I started to think about writing mysteries myself. I saw how a modern author could write tense, funny, suspenseful novels about a female PI, and thought: There’s a path for me. Sue Grafton is blazing it. In person, Sue was witty, self-deprecating, sunny, and unfailingly kind to me, other writers, and everybody she met. I’m flattened that we’ve lost her.”
Alison Gaylin writes a spellbinding PI character, Brenna Spector. It is no surprise considering how Sue influenced her. She felt “authors like Sue and Sara Peretsky not only paved the way for female authors in the PI genre, they revitalized the genre as a whole. Writers and readers of crime fiction owe her a huge debt. She created a strong, smart, capable series heroine in Kinsey Millhone — and made it not only plausible but a great idea to write a series involving a sharp female PI. My series character, Brenna Spector, owes a great debt to her, as do the many other fictional female PIs who have emerged in Kinsey’s wake. After meeting her and speaking with her about writing it became one of my all-time favorite encounters-with-an-idol.”
Kim Howe is the executive director of Thrillerfest, the conference of the International Thriller Writers and a debut author of the ‘Freedom Broker Series.’ She was saddened after hearing the news of Sue’s passing. “RIP, Sue. You’ll be dearly missed, and underscores how we have to be grateful for every day. She brought so much richness to our lives through her kindness and her books. Reading Sue’s brilliant books taught me the importance of humor in crime fiction, how it offers a wonderful relief from the intensity of gripping tales in mystery. And Sue taught me the importance of voice in fiction. In her books, the names could be blacked out, but you would know immediately that it was Kinsey talking because of her unique, sassy voice. I also loved the fact that Kinsey had a checkered background and didn’t apologize for it. In many ways, Sue Grafton was a trailblazer for both female characters and female authors. I couldn’t wait for the next letter of the alphabet. Sue was as likeable as her iconic character Kinsey. I love that she was open about her background and flaws, having lived with alcoholic parents, having survived a couple of failed marriages. She channeled those experiences into her books, and whether you read the stories or met the lovely lady, you always felt touched by her humanity and warmth.”
Alan Jacobson has written authentic novels involving FBI profiler Karen Vail and the OPSIG Team Black covert ops. Although he only met Sue once, she made a clear impression on him. “I found her to be genuine and open. As a writer, she accomplished what many of us authors attempt to do, and that is separating ourselves from all others, whether through character originality, concept, personal experience, setting, or marketing scheme. Sue’s brilliant, though simple, idea of one book for each letter of the alphabet, is unmatched, even to this day.”
Judith Jance has all of her series as bestsellers. Her characters of Joanna Brady, Ali Reynolds, and J. P. Beaumont are as famous as she is. She noted, “I met Sue Grafton several times over the course of the years. She was always kind and generous. I’ve always been impressed by the way she was able to stick with one character and make it work. I have a somewhat shorter attention span. Like her other readers, I’m sorry that her alphabet ended in Y, but I also salute her for not creating a backup legacy ghost writer. On that score we’re very much alike. When I’m over, my books will be over as well.”
Gayle Lynds has helped paved the way for women in the male-dominated genre of spy thrillers. She comments about another innovator, “Sue was a remarkable woman and writer, a pioneer, a visionary, and at the same time of an era of tough Southern women with soft Southern accents that could hide razor-sharp intellects. She would often say, ‘If you want to send a message, use Western Union.’ She wrote to entertain, but in the process she broke rock-hard sexist ground and, with Marcia Muller and Sarah Paretsky, paved the way for female detective novelists to publish. That’s a hell of a message. Long may her books live.”
Randy Susan Meyers is best known for writing women’s fiction but that was not always the case. She told of how “I gobbled up every book Sue Grafton wrote. Her character, V.I. Warshinski, was the first tough and fully-rounded female detective I’d ever read. I think her books encouraged me to write. Two of my ‘books in the drawer,’ my practice books, were pale imitations of her work. As it turned out, a detective series wasn’t the genre for which I was destined, but I, like many authors, stand on Sue Grafton’s talented shoulders. She will be missed.
T. J. Parker has written over twenty crime novels. He saw in her character, Kinsey, “a spirit, which of course was Sue’s. Something tough but amused in both of them. I like that combination. I met Sue a couple of times and she was gracious in an unforced, Southern kind of way. In spite of her big success, she always had some genuine humility about her. She struck me as a generous soul. When my publisher asked her for a quote for one of my books, Sue stepped right up and wrote me a dandy. I was pleased and not surprised.”
Peter Robinson is best known for his Inspector Banks series. He considers himself a “big fan of American private eye fiction, and now find I’m rereading quite a lot of it. Sue Grafton is certainly a major presence on that list, and I’ll probably go right back to “A”. I would have done so anyway, but her loss will make rereading her books all that more poignant. Having met Sue a number of times I always found her to be excellent company, both wise and witty. She always had time for new writers, and I have been very fortunate to benefit from her praise over the years. In fact, at my very first Bouchercon, in Pasadena, if I remember rightly, I found myself sitting next to Sue in the signing room. It was the first time we met. I had just published my first novel in the U.S. and Sue would have been on ”H” or “J” by then. Needless to say, her queue went right out of the room, and I had practically no one. But Sue was courteous and friendly, even going so far as to share her wine with me! She directed one or two people over to my line, too. That’s the sort of person she was. I’ll miss her.”
James Rollins’ Sigma series always combines history, science, and adventure. He speaks kindly of her at “nearly all my book signings. Why? Two months before I was to be published, I attended one of her book-signing talks, expressly to learn HOW to do a talk (as I figured I’d better learn, what with my first book about to hit stores). When I got to the front of the line—which was long, as you might imagine—I told her that I was a soon-to-be-published author, and she was gracious enough to chat with me and share some advice, even with the press of people in line behind me. And since then, I’ve heard anecdote after anecdote from other authors how she was equally gracious and supportive of. I took her example to heart and try to emulate her in my own interactions with authors and readers.”
Karin Slaughter not only writes successful series but also stand alones. She loved “reading Sue’s books when I was a kid (which is when I found her). The amazing thing about Kinsey for me was that the focus of her life was not romantic. She cared about her cases. She focused on helping people and solving the crime. I also loved that she struggled to pay rent and drove a VW Bug (my first car was a Bug because of Kinsey. And also because I was poor) and the ubiquitous little black dress that could stay wadded up on the floor and still look fantastic—if only! I think what Sue brought to my thoughts about writing was that it was important to show smart women doing smart things, or, conversely, doing stupid things for smart reasons. Kinsey is clever and she makes mistakes, but not the usual sort of “oh, will ever there be a man to save me!” Sort of mistakes.”
Charles Todd is best known for intertwining the WWI era with their legendary characters Bess Crawford and Ian Rutledge. They admired “Sue, along with Sara Paretsky, for proving that women could write mysteries of the same caliber as male authors, and keep readers as enthralled. She made the alphabet her own, and she gave back to the mystery community that loved her.”
For fans of Sue Grafton the ‘happy” was taken out of the New Year.
Kinsey Millhone Series (25 books)
Kinsey Millhone is a private investigator in (fictional) Santa Teresa, California (based on the city of Santa Barbara). In her 30s, she ages one year every 2 1/2 books, from 32 in A to 38 in W. http://www.suegrafton.com/bookshelf.php
“A” is for Alibi
When Laurence Fife was murdered, few mourned his passing. A prominent divorce attorney with a reputation for single-minded ruthlessness on behalf of his clients, Fife was also rumored to be a dedicated philanderer.
“B” is for Burglar
Beverly Danziger looked like an expensive, carefully wrapped package from a good but conservative shop. Only her compulsive chatter hinted at the nervousness beneath her cool surface. It was a nervousness out of all proportion to the problem she placed before Kinsey Millhone.
“C” is for Corpse
He was young—maybe twenty or so—and he must once have been a good-looking kid. Kinsey could see that. But now his body was covered in scars, his face half-collapsed. It saddened Kinsey and made her curious.
“D” is for Deadbeat
He called himself Alvin Limardo, and the job he had for Kinsey was cut-and-dried: locate a kid who’d done him a favor and pass on a check for $25,000. It was only later, after he’d stiffed her for her retainer, that Kinsey found out his name was Daggett. John Daggett.
“E” is for Evidence
It was the silly season and a Monday at that, and Kinsey Millhone was bogged down in a preliminary report on a fire claim. Something was nagging at her, but she couldn’t pin it. The last thing she needed in the morning mail was a letter from her bank recording an erroneous $5,000 deposit in her account. Kinsey had never believed in Santa Claus and she wasn’t about to change her mind now.
“F” is for Fugitive
Floral Beach wasn’t much of a town: six streets long and three deep, its only notable feature a strip of sand fronting the Pacific. It was on that sandy beach seventeen years ago that the strangled body of Jean Timberlake had been found.
“G” is for Gumshoe
Kinsey is run off the road by a red pickup truck, wrecking her ’68 Volkswagen and landing herself in the hospital. Maybe a bodyguard is a good idea after all…Enter Robert Dietz, a burnt-out detective, “late forties, five ten, maybe 170, [who arrives in] jeans, cowboy boots, a tweed sport coat with a blue toothbrush protruding from the breast pocket like a ballpoint pen.”
“H” is for Homicide
His name was Parnell Perkins, and until shortly after midnight, he’d been a claims adjustor for California Fidelity. Then someone came along and put paid to that line of work. And to any other. Parnell Perkins had been shot at close range and left for dead in the parking lot outside California Fidelity’s offices.
“I” is for Innocent
Readers of Sue Grafton’s fiction know she never writes the same book twice, and “I” is for Innocent is no exception. Her most intricately plotted novel to date, it is layered in enough complexity to baffle even the cleverest among us.
“J” is for Judgment
“J” is for Jaffe: Wendell Jaffe, dead these past five years. Or so it seemed until his former insurance agent spotted him in the bar of a dusty little resort halfway between Cabo San Lucas and La Paz.
“K” is for Killer
Lorna Kepler was beautiful and willful, a loner who couldn’t resist flirting with danger. Maybe that’s what killed her.
“L” is for Lawless
Kinsey’s skills are about to be sorely tested. She is about to meet her duplicitious match in a couple of world-class prevaricators who quite literally take her for the ride of her life.
“M” is for Malice
“M” is for money. Lots of it. “M” is for Malek Construction, the $40 million company that grew out of modest soil to become one of the big three in California construction, one of the few still in family hands.
“N” is for Noose
Kinsey Millhone should have done something else—she should have turned the car in the direction of home. Instead, she was about to put herself in the gravest jeopardy of her career.
“O” is for Outlaw
The call comes on a Monday morning from a guy who scavenges defaulted storage units at auction. The weekend before, he’d bought a stack of cardboard boxes. In one, there was a collection of childhood memorabilia with Kinsey’s name all over it. For thirty bucks, he was offering Kinsey the lot.
“P” is for Peril
Dr. Dowan Purcell had been missing for nine weeks when Kinsey got a call asking her to take on the case. A specialist in geriatric medicine, Purcell was a prominent member of the Santa Teresa medical community, and the police had done a thorough job. Purcell had no known enemies and seemed contented with his life.
“Q” is for Quarry
She was a “Jane Doe,” an unidentified white female whose decomposed body was discovered near a quarry off California’s Highway 1. The case fell to the Santa Teresa County Sheriff’s Department, but the detectives had little to go on.
“R” is for Ricochet
Reba Lafferty was a daughter of privilege, the only child of an adoring father. Nord Lafferty was already in his fifties when Reba was born, and he could deny her nothing. Over the years, he quietly settled her many scrapes with the law, but he wasn’t there for her when she was convicted of embezzlement and sent to the California Institute for Women. Now, at thirty-two, she is about to be paroled, having served twenty-two months of a four-year sentence.
“S” is for Silence
In “S” is for Silence, Kinsey Millhone’s nineteenth excursion into the world of suspense and misadventure, “S” is for surprises as Sue Grafton takes a whole new approach to telling the tale. And S is for superb: Kinsey and Grafton at their best.
“T” is for Trespass
In what may be her most unsettling novel to date, Sue Grafton’s “T” is for Trespassis also her most direct confrontation with the forces of evil. Beginning slowly with the day-to-day life of a private eye, Grafton suddenly shifts from the voice of Kinsey Millhone to that of Solana Rojas, introducing readers to a chilling sociopath.
“U” is for Undertow
Calling “T is for Trespass “taut, terrifying, transfixing and terrific,” USA Today went on to ask, “What does it take to write twenty novels about the same character and manage to create a fresh, genre-bending novel every time?” It’s a question worth pondering. Through twenty excursions into the dark side of the human soul, Sue Grafton has never written the same book twice. And so it is with this, her twenty-first. Once again, she breaks genre formulas, giving us a twisting, complex, surprise-filled, and totally satisfying thriller.
“V” is for Vengeance
The new Kinsey Millhone novel from the #1 New York Times-bestselling author. “I know there are people who believe you should forgive and forget. For the record, I’d like to say I’m a big fan of forgiveness as long as I’m given the opportunity to get even first.”
“W” is for Wasted
Two dead men changed the course of my life that fall. One of them I knew and the other I’d never laid eyes on until I saw him in the morgue.
The first was a local PI of suspect reputation. He’d been gunned down near the beach at Santa Teresa. It looked like a robbery gone bad. The other was on the beach six weeks later. He’d been sleeping rough. Probably homeless. No identification. A slip of paper with Millhone’s name and number was in his pants pocket.
Of #1 New York Times-bestselling author Sue Grafton, NPR’s Maureen Corrigan said, “Makes me wish there were more than 26 letters.” With only two letters left, Grafton’s many devoted readers will share that sentiment.
“Y” is for Yesterday
The darkest and most disturbing case report from the files of Kinsey Millhone, Y is for Yesterday begins in 1979, when four teenage boys from an elite private school sexually assault a fourteen-year-old classmate—and film the attack. Not long after, the tape goes missing and the suspected thief, a fellow classmate, is murdered. Read more…
I’d love to read all of these!
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One thought on “#SaturdaySpotlight: A Dedication to Sue Grafton #SaturdayMorning #interviews”
What a glowing tribute! I have all but a couple of her books and my mother has read them all. She was such a talented storyteller and gave me many great escapes from the real world.