Friday, December 29, 2017

Z is for Zenith: Author Sue Grafton Dies at Age 77

The final case of fictional detective Kinsey Millhone’s career has been closed, one book shy of the complete alphabet murder series so brilliantly crafted by author Sue Grafton. Grafton, 77, died in Santa Barbara, California, today after a lengthy battle with cancer. Her husband, Steven Humphrey, told the Associated Press that “Grafton had been struggling to find an idea for ‘Z’ while undergoing treatment (for cancer) and losing weight.”

Sue Grafton intrigued mystery lovers around the world with her capable, calm, methodical detective Kinsey Millhone. Millhone had no attachments to people, places or things, although she headquartered in Santa Teresa, a fictional town in California, where Kinsey supplemented her big cases by working on resolving small matters for an insurance company.

Kinsey was a loner, quite the opposite of Sue Grafton, happily married, plus mother to two daughters and a son, in the world she spanned between Louisville, Kentucky, and Montecito, California. She was just a few miles away from Santa Barbara, which surely had to be total inspiration for Kinsey’s “Santa Teresa” headquarters.

Grafton was an alumnus of both the University of Louisville and Western Kentucky University, both proudly claiming her, but she earned her B.A. in English Literature from Louisville in 1961. Naturally, Louisville named her a Distinguished Alumnus in 1993, after she was well into her alphabet mysteries. She amassed numerous other awards of course, but there’s something special when your alma mater pays heed to your career accomplishments.

We first met Kinsey, err, Sue, in 1982 with “A” is for Alibi, and it didn’t take long before readers were clamoring for “B,” then “C,” and so forth. Just four months ago, on August 22, 2017, to be exact, Marian Wood Books/Putnam released “Y” is for Yesterday as she progressed near her intended series conclusion.

Different from the overarching upbeat narrative usually related by Kinsey Millhone, the plot and numerous twists within “Y” is for Yesterday almost gave readers, or at least just speaking for myself, the feeling that something was not quite right about the feel to the story. It was so dark, so painful, and more intricate than the usually more lighthearted tone of her stories.

Not that murder is in any way lighthearted in fiction or in real life, but ever before, even on Kinsey’s tougher cases, her outlook remained determined and optimistic, to solve the unsolvable, and this time, in “Y,” it just seemed like we were dragged into quicksand and the plot didn’t advance in its usual way. I’d already pronounced that opinion, if only to myself, when I read it a few months ago, and wondered what “Z” would be like.

It’s understandable, too, that if you’d been battling cancer for two years, your outlook wouldn’t be Kinsey’s usual style as well. She did, however, resolve her case, and only “Z” remained before she’d gone from A to Z, truly.

I remember reading on Amazon Smile, when I’d ordered my copy of “Y,” what was said of that volume:

“Of #1 New York Times-bestselling author Sue Grafton, NPR's Maureen Corrigan said, “Makes me wish there were more than 26 letters.” With only one letter left, Grafton's many devoted readers will share that sentiment.”

Random fans were suggesting Grafton could begin with “1,” and go forward in numerical series, or whatever else she dreamed up as a new series. Grafton’s writing was not limited to the Kinsey Millhone mysteries. Her official Web site, is well worth visiting to get to know better a woman who kept us all entertained for 35 years.

One additional important component of enjoying Sue Grafton novels are the audio versions available from, as well as the other usual Web sources. Audiobook narrator Judy Kaye has been the single, consistent “voice” of Kinsey Millhone, on all of Sue Grafton’s alphabet series. Speaking personally, there is no other “voice of the voice,” than Judy Kaye. For those who share my love of the audible version of Grafton’s books, you’ll enjoy this transcript of a 2010 interview conducted by writer Mary Frances Wilkens as she talks with both Grafton and Kaye.

Any author is typically happy when their book is published in one language, but Sue Grafton achieved the penultimate accomplishment: “…published in 28 countries and 26 languages—including Estonian, Bulgarian, and Indonesian.” With millions of readers whose lives she touched, it won’t be long before everyone relocates their copies of their old hardbacks and starts all over again with “A.”

To recap, in case you’d forgotten:

A is for Alibi

B is for Burglar

C is for Corpse

D is for Deadbeat

E is for Evidence

F is for Fugitive

G is for Gumshoe

H is for Homicide

I is for Innocent

J is for Judgment

K is for Killer

L is for Lawless

M is for Malice

N is for Noose

O is for Outlaw

P is for Peril

Q is for Quarry

R is for Richochet

S is for Silence

T is for Trespass

U is for Undertow

V is for Vengeance

X is …just X

Y is for Yesterday

And Z….was meant to be “Z" is for Zero, according to Grafton’s husband, Steven Humphrey.

I propose instead, with all presumptive nerve I have in me, that “Z” instead should be titled as “Z" is for Zenith, because once you’ve reached the top of your profession, there is no additional place to go, once you’ve achieved your zenith.

Sue had said and done all that she needed to say, really, and those of us who’d become so attached to Kinsey are left with the infinite possibilities of devising our own stories and creating our own plots that we think might have made for an exciting “Z.”

This beautiful photo of the author was captured by Gino Domenico (for AP), taken on Oct. 15, 2002 in New York. Original can be found here. Sue Grafton left the writers in each of us with…inspiration.

Thank you so much, Sue Grafton, for 35 years of quality writing, brilliant plots, quirky characters, and for sharing with all women that if you choose to rush through lunch (or dinner) on a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese, Fries, and a Coke, you can begin your morning with a three-mile run on the beach, shower, and still fit into that all-purpose little black dress and make it in time to your next formal event…safely. Godspeed and God bless you, Sue Grafton.

Case closed.

Respectfully submitted,

Dawn Lee Wakefield (for Kinsey Millhone)

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