From A to Y | Sue Grafton Remembered

When best-selling author Sue Grafton, 77, died of cancer on December 28, 2017, she was one book short of completing her best-selling series of alphabetically titled mysteries that began in 1982 with A Is for Alibi. Although Grafton had planned for the final volume, Z Is for Zero, to be published in 2019, her illness had prevented her from working on the book. Her daughter Judith Clark announced on her mother’s website and Facebook page that because Grafton would never allow a ghost writer to write in her name, the final title would not be completed. “As far as we in the family are concerned, the alphabet now ends at Y.”

Like her colleague Sara Paretsky, who also introduced her female gumshoe, V.I. Warshawski, in 1982, Grafton is now considered a game changer in the mystery genre. Her Southern California detective heroine, Kinsey Millhone, with her cheeky humor and independent spirit, helped to subvert the male-dominated hard-boiled crime fiction of Dashiell Hammett and Ross Macdonald by changing the way women were depicted. Goodbye, femmes fatales! Hello, female private eyes!

But when Grafton published her first mystery and her third novel, the signs were not promising. Reviews were tepid. Critic Sarah Weinman notes that pseudonymous New York Times critic Newgate Callendar dismissed A Is for Alibi as “competent enough, but not particularly original.” Alas, LJ‘s reviewer was equally unenthusiastic in an April 1, 1982, review, waving the book aside as “nothing to take it out of the ordinary.”

It took eight years and six mysteries before Grafton hit the paperback best seller list in1990 with F Is for Fugitive; she cracked the hardcover list in 1995 with L Is for Lawless. Along the way, the stories became more complex and intricate, even as Kinsey aged only six years and continued sleuthing in the 1980s.

In Grafton’s memory, here are LJ‘s first and final reviews of her wonderful mysteries. She will be missed, but Kinsey, her octogenarian landlord and friend Henry, and the fictional town of Santa Teresa, CA, will continue to live long in the hearts and minds of her many fans.

Grafton, Sue. “A” Is for Alibi. Holt. Apr. 1982. c.272. $12.95.
Another California private eye, Kinsey Millhone, makes her debut in this story of a murder committed eight years before. Nikki Fife was convicted of killing her husband, but as soon as she’s out of prison, she hires Kinsey to find the true murderer. Kinsey turns up another seemingly related and unsolved murder committed about the same time, but the investigation turns nasty and someone else is killed. Kinsey needs to find two—possibly three murderers. This is an interesting, though not spectacular, introduction for a new series. The female detective is well drawn and the plot moves at a fast clip, but there is nothing to take it out of the ordinary—MA-L. (LJ 4/1/82)

 

Grafton, Sue. Y Is for Yesterday. Putnam. Aug. 2017. 496p. ISBN 9780399163852. $29; ebk. ISBN 9781101614358. MYS
PI Kinsey Millhone may be running scared from serial killer Ned Lowe, who nearly strangled her in the previous volume (X) of this alphabet mystery series, but fear won’t stop her from searching for a potential blackmailer. Fritz McCabe was only 15 in 1979 when he killed a classmate from Climping Academy in Santa Teresa, CA. Fast-forward to 1989, and he is released from prison. But someone wants money to hide a sex tape that reveals Fritz and a friend assaulting a young teen. Kinsey juggles her search for the extortionist with pursuing leads about the whereabouts of the menacing Ned Lowe, who intends to add Kinsey to his string of kills. The series may be coming to a close, but Grafton (W Is for Wasted) constructs an intricate plot following two time lines with at least a dozen characters in play, while rarely slowing the pace. Kinsey’s fans may have to take notes to keep up with her as she untangles a web of lies and cover stories to solve the current blackmail case as well as the older murder.
Verdict Readers of Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski or Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum may enjoy this California sleuthing sister. [See Prepub Alert, 3/23/17.]—Wendy W. Paige, Shelby Cty. P.L., Morristown, IN (Xpress Reviews 7/21/17)

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Wilda Williams About Wilda Williams

Wilda "Willy" Williams (wwilliams@mediasourceinc.com) is LJ's Fiction Editor. She specializes in popular fiction and edits the Mystery, Science Fiction, Christian Fiction, and Word on Street Lit columns.

Comments

  1. Linda Dill says:

    I’m sorry to hear about the passing of one of my favorite authors. I was looking forward to the last of the series. I’ll miss Kinsey too but I understand and respect the families decision not to let someone else write it.

  2. Diana Shank says:

    I am so sad to hear of Sue Grafton’s passing. I have read all of her novels except X and Y. I started out reading “Q” then realized that I needed to start with A. I work in a writing department at a university in Michigan and some of the professors in this department have also read and enjoyed her books. Peace and comfort to the family during this hard time.

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