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SUE GRAFTON: An Appreciation

Such a sad way for mystery fans to greet the New Year, with the death of Sue Grafton.  As a reader who has read the Kinsey Millhone series from the beginning, it’s hard to imagine that this is the end of the alphabet.

A is for Alibi was published in 1982, and although it was not Ms. Grafton’s first work, it was the first stop on her road to literary fame.  It received widespread publicity and acknowledgement as one of the earliest mystery series to feature the new type of female protagonist–independent, tough, smart, and sure enough of herself (most of the time) to believe she could make it in the mostly male world of private investigators.

Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone series debuted in 1977, and that helped pave the way for Kinsey.  Right from A is for Alibi Kinsey is upfront about who she is–twice-divorced, no children, no family (although she finds relatives much later in the alphabet), unconcerned about her physical appearance but dedicated to jogging to keep herself in shape.  She gives the reader the impression of “take it or leave it,” this is who I am.

In my opinion, it was Sue Grafton’s writing style that made her a reader’s favorite.  She had a knack of drawing you into the story immediately, and you were rooting for Kinsey all the way.  Kinsey wasn’t fearless and she made mistakes and misjudgments along the way, but you felt her heart was always in the right place.

Halfway through the series, when she meets her mother’s birth family (whom she hadn’t known existed, much less that they were practically neighbors), her sense of their betrayal of her mother is so strong that you understand why she has no desire to become a part of the clan, even knowing that some benefits might come with belonging.  She feels that it would be disloyal to her late mother to forgive, or at least to forgive easily.  Kinsey is never a cardboard character simply working her way through the plot; she has feelings the reader can emphasize with and understand.

In a loving tribute to her mother, Jamie Clark wrote on Sue Grafton’s Facebook page that “as far as we in the family are concerned, the alphabet now ends at Y.”  Amen to that.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.


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