As readers eagerly await the publication of Sue Grafton’s last novel in her alphabet series of murder mysteries, they learn of a tragedy–Sue has died of cancer at the age of 77. Her last book to be published was Y, and now Z will never be written.There are 25 books in the series, beginning with A is for Alibi, and here we look at some of the books and themes. What is remarkable in her mysteries, is not just her fast-paced plot, but her psychological insight into her characters, particularly the character of her detective, Kinsey Millhone. Twice divorced Kinsey is a private detective and a single woman, who likes being single. Kinsey doesn’t cook, eats largely junk food and loves burgers, fries and coke. She knows how to laugh at herself, when she gets into absurd situations, such as when she illegally enters a house by pushing her way in through a doggy door, only to be greeted by a dog who growls if she tries to stand up, so that Kinsey explores the house crawling on all fours. She is often inapproprately dressed and doesn’t really care. She rarely, if ever, gets involved in a relationship, and lives life on her own terms, with few possessions or ties.
Yet Kinsey is concerned and empathetic. She makes sure she gets paid, as she has to live, but at the same time she cares about those who employ her, about the victims and their families. In Q is for Quarry, an unsolved real murder of an unidentified seventeen year-old girl, forms the base for the fictional plot. Like Kinsey, Sue cares enough for the real-life victim to get involved in giving her a proper burial, and puts a reconstructed picture of her in the book, hoping that some day she would be indentified.
The other books have purely fictional characters. In some, the focus is mainly on the plot, with Kinsey’s life being secondary, while in most there is a parallel focus on Kinsey and the mysteries she solves. G is for Gumshoe is one of those with long passages on Kinsey, and on her newly reconstructed apartment, which was blown up by a bomb, an incident that is described in the previous book, F is for Fugitive. Ms. Grafton’s descriptive passages and attention to small details, enable one to picture what she describes. “The entire apartment had the feel of a ship’s interior. The walls were highly polished teak and oak, with shelves and cubbyholes on every side….. In the ceiling above the bed, there was a round shaft extending through the roof, capped by a clear Plexiglass skylight that seemed to fling light down on the blue-and-white patchwork coverlet. Loft windows looked out to the ocean on one side and the mountains on the other….”.
Sue Grafton’s books have been published in twenty-eight countries in twenty-six different languages. In her introduction to her books,she writes, “ For months I lay in bed and plotted how to kill my ex-husband. But I knew I’d bungle it and get caught, so I wrote it in a book instead.” Whether this is true or not, it certainly adds interest to her books!
So far I have read all her books up to X, mainly because I like Kinsey’s character. R was somewhat disappointing, but I liked the rest. Many wondered what Ms Grafton would do after Z, would she start a new series? Unfortunately her life ended too soon.