farewell to sue grafton

I first learned about Sue Grafton from an article I read a long time ago, way back when the Kinsey Millhone books (“the alphabet mysteries”) were around “C” or “D” somewhere. She said that she started writing because she was going through a bad divorce and found herself thinking of different ways to kill her ex. Having come up with a good method, she figured it would be better to write a book than to carry out her plan in real life.

I started reading the books with “A” Is for Alibi and kept going — I think I lost momentum around “M” or “N.”

The mysteries were good, very reminiscent of Ross Macdonald — families and generations of secrets and trouble which only gradually come to the surface. (Grafton was not shy about Macdonald’s influence — her books were set in the same fictional California city where Macdonald’s Lew Archer stories took place: Santa Teresa.)

A couple of the endings I remember particularly well — one where Millhone made an uncharacteristic choice (for believable reasons), which she immediately regretted but was unable to take back, and somebody died; and another where on the final page she realized that she might have misjudged who the villain had been all along, and that she would never be completely sure of the answer. Both were handled very well.

The books weren’t perfect. Millhone’s friends were a singularly uninteresting crew, and in later books she acquired a family she didn’t know she had and didn’t really want, and that was tedious, too. I used to like to listen to them as books on tape — the audio versions were edited to remove most of the friends and family stuff and focus in on the mysteries.

I also liked the fact that the books had a slow time-scale, so that, for example, if a book came out every year, each book would account for three or four months of Millhone’s life (I forget the exact ratio). So, Millhone aged, but not at the same rate as the rest of us, and she never had to deal with the internet and cell phones and so on.

Another thing I remember from that magazine article is that Grafton was asked what she would do when she got all the way through the alphabet. Would she stop? (As I say, she was still near the beginning at that point, so the question was pretty lighthearted.) Her answer was that she wasn’t going to stop — the “Z” book would be “Z” is for Zero, and then she would do numbers.

Well, she made it through the alphabet all the way from “A” to “Y” before she died and the series will end there (her family has confirmed this). That’s good — series should end when the author dies. And there are no movies — Grafton was against that, too, which is also admirable.

There’s another “farewell” post coming soon, but I couldn’t put them together, for reasons which will become obvious.

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