Sue Grafton, the beloved author of the Kinsey Millhone Alphabet series of mysteries set in Southern California, has died and left the world forever on the letter Y.
I remember the first Sue Grafton novel I read. It was December 1996 and I found a paperback copy of “J is for Judgment” in the Mexico City airport. My flight out of the D.F. was delayed overnight, and I had nowhere to go other than right where I already was. I had been traveling in Guatemala and was sick with something I can only guess was payback for the brutal European imperialism of days gone by. I had nothing to do, and I was exhausted. And then here was this book, in English, just sitting there for the taking. But, always one to do the right thing (okay, usually one to do the right thing), I took it to the security desk. After all, it had to belong to someone, right? I told the uniformed man behind the desk that if no one claimed it, I could really go for something to do for the next seven hours. He took the book gruffly and without comment, and I returned to my cracked vinyl bench. I dunno, maybe I looked particularly woeful, but about fifteen minutes passed, and the man brought the book over. He handed it to me, again without comment. This time he did nearly smile.
From the first chapter, I was basically H is for Hooked on this smart and savvy female PI operating out of the fictional Santa Teresa (which, for a Cali girl like me, was totally and obviously Santa Barbara). I went back and read everything that had been published to that date and then spent the next 20+ years anticipating Novembers when the new novels in the series were usually released. What made them so readable was the characters Grafton created, most notably the lead, Kinsey Millhone. Kinsey was strong, smart, and self-sufficient but she never was a super-woman or a Mary Sue. Her kind of confidence and success has always felt attainable, and she herself has felt accessible, though she was not transparent, not always easy to understand. She had dimension, like a real human being. She made mistakes, she had some odd quirks and old baggage. Grafton crafted a character over literally decades who only aged a few months with each new book. While the rest of us moved through the 1990s, 2000s, and beyond, Kinsey stayed in the 80s, and Grafton managed to keep the setting real and believable. No tech, no Internet. Good old fashioned detective work and twisty, interesting plots that never got stale. Despite the sometimes difficult and gritty situations between the pages, to me, Grafton’s books always felt as promising and comfortable as stepping into a coastal garden filled with the warm glow of afternoon sunlight.
It’s sad to find myself at the end of that sunlit path now. But I am grateful for the time that Sue and Kinsey walked among us. I will always be thankful to that Mexican security officer and to the reader who left “J is for Judgment” behind. I will miss you Kinsey, and your gifted creator. Thank you for all the Yesterdays.