By Ken DeLaat
“There's something inherent in human nature that has us constructing narratives to explain a world that is otherwise chaotic and opaque. Life is little more than a series of overlapping stories about who we are, where we came from, and how we struggle to survive. What we call news isn't news at all: wars, murders, famines, plagues—death in all its forms. It's folly to assign meaning to every chance event, yet we do it all the time."-Sue Grafton V is for Vengeance”
Sue Grafton the alphabet author who made Kinsey Millhone a much favored heroine within an ocean of personalities created by mystery writers has passed on.
It was the strong attachment readers had to the quirky and fiercely independent Ms. Millhone that captivated aficionados of the genre and sold millions of books.
And it was an attachment I most certainly shared.
I discovered Ms. Grafton at ‘C is for Corpse’ driving me back for A is for Alibi and B is for Burglar. Her writing was crisp, clever and often tinged with humor while presenting appealing characters who engaged in quick-witted, yet believable dialogue. As her books worked their way through the alphabet they found themselves under our Christmas tree each year inside the skillfully wrapped gift that bore my name.. The last one was ‘X’ a couple years ago.
She published ‘Y is for Yesterday’ this year but I didn’t get it…. perhaps the result of not being as well behaved as I might have been these past 12 months.
Ms. Grafton wrote a couple of other books before beginning this scintillating series which she once said was inspired by Edward Albee’s ‘The Gashlycrumb Tinies’ a macabre rhyming book depicting a similar run through the alphabet involving the demise of 26 children.
“E is for Ernest who choked on a peach
F is for Fanny sucked dry by a leech
G is for George smothered under a rug
H is for Hector done in by a thug”
If the lyrics seem a bit gruesome check out the accompanying drawings.
But we digress.
When I began reading Ms. Grafton my children were but tots. Early elementary munchkins who required a good deal of attention and time because, well, because they were 7 and 5 years old. Later in the evening when they were finally abed her books were a way of winding down from the day though it was easy to be captivated enough by her storytelling ability to find myself arriving at work the next day a victim of inadequate slumber.
As I progressed through her perennial offerings those children grew and now have children of their own. ‘I is for Innocent’ was read the year our daughter (and youngest) turned 10. I spent evenings with ‘M is for Malice ’ as our son completed his final year of high school and ‘R is for Ricochet’ was sometimes read with a sleeping first grandchild on my lap.
Years ago while watching an interview with Ms. Grafton notice was taken when she was asked why she had turned down offers to have her ultra-popular novels to be transformed into film or television.
She explained that she never wanted anyone identified as Kinsey Millhone. That Kinsey was everywoman and her personae would forever be in the imagination of the reader.
Bonus. In addition to enjoying her books immensely one could admire her integrity when it came to protecting her protagonist.
Unlike other more prolific authors she used no ghost writers and her family will abide by her wishes about such things which means the series has come to an end. One letter short of an alphabet sweep. Just before the final letter Z which was to be ‘Z is for Zero’.
There have been 25 books chronicling the intriguing and adventurous life of Kinsey Millhone and I’ve read 24. Soon to be 25 as I will be getting ahold of ‘Y is for Yesterday’ at first chance since my birthday isn’t until fall and I can’t take any chances on my behavior improving a great deal before then anyway.
‘A is for Alibi’
Yup. Starting over.
While the author whose work I long admired may have departed this plane, Kinsey Millhone the engaging character she created remains with us.
As does the legacy of a talented tale teller.
“The hard thing about death is that nothing ever changes. The hard thing about life is that nothing stays the same.”-Sue Grafton “J is for Judgement”
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