Sue Grafton died the other day. The author of 25 detective novels, she’s been with me since 1982 when A is for Alibi came out. Her books took me from life as a young mother through two careers to present day where I am reading her most recent, and it turns out last, Y is for Yesterday.
They feature Kinsey Millhone, intrepid private investigator in Santa Teresa, California. She solves intriguing puzzles brought to her by a colorful range of clients, some of whom cannot be trusted. She lives simply in a rental unit behind her 80-some year old retired baker and landlord Henry, the closest thing to family that the long-orphaned Kinsey has.
Time in Santa Teresa moves more slowly than ours. Kinsey’s time-lag meant that the last book, published in 2016, finds her in a 1989 world that relied on landlines, typewriters, and index cards. That may sound backwards to us, but to have your thirties last from 1982 to 2016? I’d take that.
Twice-divorced Kinsey would risk the occasional romance which always sputtered out, leaving her wary. In N is for Noose, Kinsey reflects, “Get close to someone and the next thing you know, you’ve given them the power to wound, betray, irritate, abandon you, or bore you senseless.” How long did it take Grafton to craft that perfect sentence?
I’ve learned that there was more overlap between author and character (is there ever not?) than their marital history of two divorces each. Both were in second careers, Kinsey a former cop, Grafton a former screenwriter. Grafton must have enjoyed the transition to novels that allowed her to write the above words, which could never find their way into a screenplay, not a good one anyway. People don’t talk like that, but they think like that.
I started the audio book of Y is for Yesterday a few days after Grafton’s death, ready to savor it, hearing every word, imagining her writing them. There will not be a Z is for Zero, the long-ago announced title of the intended last book. She declared that there would be no ghostwriter, no movies, no Kinsey in someone else’s hands. Her family backs that up, saying that for them, the alphabet will always end with Y.
If you have missed out on Grafton and therefore Kinsey, count yourself lucky that it is all still ahead for you. Return to 1982, when life was simpler, and you were…how old?
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