As far as we in the family are concerned, the alphabet now ends at Y
December 29, 2017 4:02 PM   Subscribe

Sue Grafton, a prolific author of detective novels known for an alphabetically titled series that began in 1982 with “A Is for Alibi,” has died on Thursday night in Santa Barbara, Calif. She was 77.

Grafton's last book, "Y is for Yesterday," was published in August. Her daughter made the announcement on Facebook: "Many of you also know that she was adamant that her books would never be turned into movies or TV shows, and in that same vein, she would never allow a ghost writer to write in her name. Because of all of those things, and out of the deep abiding love and respect for our dear sweet Sue, as far as we in the family are concerned, the alphabet now ends at Y."
  • 1985 interview with Grafton on writing "lady gumshoes."
  • Q: Do you ever get tired of dreaming up ways that people can be killed? A: Never.
  • "Anybody can write six books; it's the first twenty that'll kill you."
posted by not_the_water (64 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I saw this earlier on Twitter and literally cried out.
I think I stopped reading her alphabet series around “M” but I vividly remember devouring them when I was living in my first apartment in my 20s. The only place that sold them was a combination greeting card shop/ bookstore down the street and I used to love buying the next “letter” and then reading it all weekend. I still have those paperbacks. Really nice memories.
posted by bookmammal at 4:11 PM on December 29, 2017 [10 favorites]

"S" is for Sadness.

posted by 4ster at 4:16 PM on December 29, 2017 [15 favorites]

My mom has loved these books for an insane number of years. They were responsible for many trips to the library as a kid, which introduced me to so much... So Sue, thank you for writing for my mom's enjoyment so that I could gain an appreciation for literature and public libraries.


Also, I now have to call my mom.
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:19 PM on December 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

posted by theora55 at 4:21 PM on December 29, 2017


(Sue G provided many hours of good reads. rip.)
posted by pjmoy at 4:28 PM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

My daughter, who adores Grafton's books, just texted me with sadness over the death of this author.
posted by bz at 4:28 PM on December 29, 2017

Wait. It's a series? I assumed it was just her schtick to name unrelated novels like that.

Condolences to her family and her readers, may they one day learn to cope with the purgatory that they seem to be stuck with, for better or worse.
posted by RolandOfEld at 4:29 PM on December 29, 2017

My experience with the Grafton books is almost identical to bookmammal's, even to the letter where I stopped.

Dammit. Sue dying at Y speaks volumes about the unfairness and unpredictability of life and death.
posted by kimberussell at 4:31 PM on December 29, 2017 [8 favorites]

My mom and I used to argue over who would get to start the new Grafton first.

posted by rtha at 4:38 PM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I sold so many of her books when I worked in a bookstore. They were fun to alphabetize, too.
posted by gingerbeer at 4:43 PM on December 29, 2017 [8 favorites]

Dang, this has reminded me that I never read any of the books in the series. Is there a canonical best one to start at?
posted by LSK at 4:43 PM on December 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 4:45 PM on December 29, 2017

Her books are so wildly popular at my library.

posted by sarcasticah at 4:46 PM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

LSK—you must start with “A Is For Alibi” and then go in order to appreciate how the characters develop over time. Enjoy!
posted by bookmammal at 4:50 PM on December 29, 2017 [13 favorites]

And lo, for my mother just called to say she had made it home safely after her holiday travels. I told her, and she said rats... and she is glad she still has Janet Evonavich at least.

So... she's over it.
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:52 PM on December 29, 2017

I didn't know until I read the 1985 NYT link in the post how groundbreaking it was to have a female PI in a crime novel:

The publishing industry at this point is skeptical about the broader appeal of these women who are detectives and private investigators. Those in the industry hold that most readers of hard-boiled fiction are men, and the trade does not see them racing to buy books written by and featuring women. They are not so sure that women want to read them either.

I didn't make it past the middle of the alphabet either, but I vividly remember discovering Grafton as an early teen at my grandmother's house. I re-read and re-re-read the first six or so books every time I visited.
posted by not_the_water at 5:01 PM on December 29, 2017

This is making me miss my mom, who liked that kind of funny, workmanlike detective novel as as a mental break from her work as a microbiologist. She died in 1995 (after L is for Lawless) and I stopped reading the books at that point because they were no longer lying around my mom's house waiting to be picked up. In the first few years after she died it was hard to see new books coming out in series she'd liked that she wouldn't have a chance to read.

posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 5:04 PM on December 29, 2017 [21 favorites]

posted by MovableBookLady at 5:12 PM on December 29, 2017

posted by suelac at 5:13 PM on December 29, 2017

I literally gasped reading this news. I just always assumed there would be a Z.

I started reading these books on a 2 hour commute to my summer job one year in university, and I found them totally compelling. I loved reading about a no-nonsense woman detective--not as much of a rarity now, but more of one then.

posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:19 PM on December 29, 2017 [5 favorites]

Stonkle--Kinsey's ship-like home was one of my favourite things about those books!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:21 PM on December 29, 2017 [8 favorites]

I texted my Mom when I found out, too. We used to love these.
posted by Shebear at 5:33 PM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I really like the family’s statement. It reminds of a similar sentiment from Terry Pratchett’s daughter Rhianna, on why she wouldn’t be continuing the Discworld series: “I’m the protector of Discworld and that means protecting it from myself as well."
posted by Ian A.T. at 5:47 PM on December 29, 2017 [13 favorites]

posted by Lynsey at 6:18 PM on December 29, 2017

I really learned a lot about being a strong independent woman from reading these books in my early teens. Kinsey really had it together, she was smart, sharp, and witty. She knew how to keep her money and household together, and she didn't let people jerk her around. The definition of no-nonsense. She didn't mess around with her hair. She cut it with nail clippers! I remember that she kept a wrinkle-resistant black dress balled up in the backseat of her car in case she needed it, and I also recall her complaining about tights. She would go running often, and she used to order Quarter Pounders with cheese and cut them into quarters to eat them for some reason, a practice that I replicated when I would order hamburgers at Wendy's as a teen.

Seriously, it was not common to read about a strong single woman like her. Thinking back, I really see a lot of the way that I view the world as being shaped by reading those novels. I worked in a library as a teenager, and I would often read her books in the stacks when I was supposed to be shelving.

J is the best one. Looks like it's time for a re-read.

posted by sockermom at 6:33 PM on December 29, 2017 [25 favorites]

sockermom—YES, the wadded up black dress in the back of her car! That was actually one of the first things I remembered when I started thinking back about Kinsey today!
posted by bookmammal at 6:39 PM on December 29, 2017 [7 favorites]



That one hit close to home. (I actually had a chance to meet her on more than one occasion. She frequented the gun shop one of my housemates used to work at for research. If I was in the neighborhood (and bored) I would nip by to shoot the poop. So, sometimes, would she.)
posted by Samizdata at 6:44 PM on December 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

posted by camyram at 7:02 PM on December 29, 2017

posted by inexorably_forward at 7:34 PM on December 29, 2017

posted by get off of my cloud at 7:43 PM on December 29, 2017

I gasped aloud at the news, too. Kinsey is one of the all-time greats, and I’m heartbroken there will never be any more about her adventures and Henry and Rosie and the rest of her cobbled together little chosen family. This is a big loss.
posted by something something at 8:01 PM on December 29, 2017 [6 favorites]

2017 manages to wound us one more time.

I just spotted Y in a bookstore last week. I was so happy for her that she was getting near to Z, and the opportunity to explore freedom from this series. Damn.

I so enjoyed Kinsey and her escapades, and the wonderfully drawn-over-time characters surrounding her. I loved the realness of Kinsey, and her quirky flawed self. These books were a great way to spend an afternoon while I was sick in bed, and they helped me through a rough patch with far too many afternoons sick in bed.

Thanks, Sue, for sharing Kinsey with us. You will be missed.
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 8:06 PM on December 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

I’ve been reading these for over 20 years, and it’s been a Christmas tradition for almost as long that I receive the latest one as a present.

This year, the tradition ended with Y Is for Yesterday.

RIP, Sue. RIP, Kinsey.
posted by Automocar at 8:12 PM on December 29, 2017 [5 favorites]

posted by Secretariat at 8:22 PM on December 29, 2017

Oh no, I am so sad to read this. And I feel like I've lost Kinsey and everyone else too.

posted by kitten magic at 9:21 PM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

As with others - these books were a family tradition of ours. I can't remember the plots of almost any of them if pressed, but it was always a special moment when we'd get a chance to tear into one. My mom would get a single hard back copy and it was the duty of whoever received it to devour it before we parted (hardbacks only started after we had split up into vaguely adult lives) and then pass it onto Mom so we could all read it. Later it became a shared Kindle book even though we all agreed they weren't quite as enjoyable.. but damnit, I would have loved to have seen what Z was about.

This joins Black Border for McGee as things I'm going to ache to read if there's a great celestial library.
posted by drewbage1847 at 9:30 PM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've been reading them for twenty years. Started with B which came free with a magazine. I reread them over and over. Love all the little details of Kinsey's life and the joy she expressed living it.
posted by kitten magic at 9:31 PM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I remember when A is for Alibi came out - there was Marcia Muller's Sharon McCone series, Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski books, and precious little else.

Kinsey was a great character (the black dress!) and Q is for Quarry really stuck in my mind, because it was based on an unsolved homicide in Santa Barbara (there's a facial reconstruction of the victim in the book).
posted by mogget at 9:45 PM on December 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

posted by evilDoug at 9:54 PM on December 29, 2017

posted by Sphinx at 11:16 PM on December 29, 2017

Out of curiosity, I wandered over to my library's e-library and found that nearly all her titles (ebooks and audiobooks both) have waiting lists. I've tagged in for some, deciding that I will begin a (re) read.
posted by rtha at 11:50 PM on December 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

posted by condour75 at 12:02 AM on December 30, 2017

I really think Grafton's writing only got better over time. Or as Kinsey "grew up" (she still hasn't made it to 40), she got more interesting. I was sort of hoping Z would be a fast forward to today, with elderly Kinsey still working cases, now with a cellphone and the internet (so much of her life would have been easier with a cellphone and the internet).

As others have noted, the world of female PIs has exploded. But Kinsey Milhone and V.I. Warshawski were completely formative for me.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:40 AM on December 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

posted by filtergik at 4:07 AM on December 30, 2017


I recall an early interview where she said she was sorry for starting the alphabet thing as it roped her in to go to Z. I'm not sorry, I loved her books. But we'll never have a Z, but maybe that's a good thing.
posted by james33 at 4:57 AM on December 30, 2017


Lawrence Block in a couple of Bernie Rhodenbarr books, (not the series I took my username from) cracked wise about Sue Grafton by mentioning her books such as I is for Claudius. He suggested the series could be continued with BB is for Gun and so on. It is a crying shame we will never get those books.
posted by dannyboybell at 5:09 AM on December 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

I read all her books, and just finished the last one on a trip to LA and Phoenix. My daughter in law also reads them, so it is not just us old ladies. Very sad news.
posted by mermayd at 5:26 AM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

We recently had a discussion at my library about how to shelve two series, one by James Patterson ('1st to Die,' '2nd Chance,' '3rd Degree,' etc.) and one by Janet Evanovich ('One for the Money,' 'Two for the Dough,' 'Three to Get Deadly,' etc.). Some people said that, rather than the usual alphabetical order, we should put them in numerical order/series order. Some people, me among them, said that we could not possibly do that for every single series from every single author, and that it is more important to be consistent and, therefore, stick with the alphabet. This conversation took place mostly over email, so I did not say this part out loud:

I don't think we should reward Patterson and Evanovich by naming a rule after them for unsuccessfully stealing Sue Grafton's gimmick.

posted by box at 5:48 AM on December 30, 2017 [8 favorites]

Loved her books - Kinsey was such an appealing protagonist and the comfort of going back to the same setting and characters made them delightful escape reading. Like many here I had kind of extinguished on them a few years ago but am still sad she didn't make it to Z!
posted by leslies at 6:08 AM on December 30, 2017

Grafton was a wonderful writer. One touch that sticks in my head is Kinsey going into the apartment of someone who was murdered, seeing a hamster in a cage with a wheel and saying, "I'm sorry" to the hamster.

RIP and thank you, Sue Grafton.

posted by BibiRose at 6:26 AM on December 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

posted by matildaben at 8:07 AM on December 30, 2017

RIP you dear woman and I am so glad we will not see a ghost-written Z. I used to read a lot of mysteries and the Alphabet series was one of my staples. Then my tastes changed and the genre fell by the wayside for me. Perhaps I should at least try to finish it now.

I met Sue at a signing in the Galleria Mall in Edina MN. The time slot for the signing was just about up and no one was in line. Sue was clearly exhausted - it was in the evening and book tours are hell. But she was gracious. And then I asked her if she had any advice for an aspiring writer and the light in her eyes switched to high beams. We spent the next ten minutes talking, especially about rewriting, which is where I was at in my book. I remember her saying that the rewrite was her favorite part, polishing the plot and sewing up the holes, ratcheting the tension, etc. I walked away on clouds and she walked away with what I hope was a buzz from a decent interaction with a fan to end the day.
posted by Ber at 8:24 AM on December 30, 2017 [19 favorites]

Oh how I'll miss Kinsey Millhone - her non iron black dress and her index cards, her wonderful relationship with Henry Pitt, her putting up with Rosie's cooking and everything that happens when I escape to Santa Teresa.

RIP Sue Grafton, you will be greatly missed.
posted by humph at 9:08 AM on December 30, 2017 [6 favorites]

I second everyone else's giant cosmic whine about this.

I got to meet her during the X book tour and she was lovely.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:36 AM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

She has been on my list to read for ages, and I have finally reserved A is for Alibi at the library (which now has a very long waiting list). I'm sad to hear there won't be a Z. I'm enjoying reading everyone's family memories of sharing her books, especially all of the women here who've shared them with their mothers and I think I'll buy my mom a copy of the first one for her birthday this year.

posted by skycrashesdown at 10:22 AM on December 30, 2017

I’ve looked forward to, and have read, all of her books. My late mom also loved the books.

Someone else, years ago, wrote a book, K is for Kinsey, that was pretty neat.

posted by SillyShepherd at 3:41 PM on December 30, 2017

I wrote a paper on Kinsey and other hard boiled women detectives back in...the late 1990s, it must have been. I haven't kept up with the recent ones barring a few I bought at used book stores, but they have always been quality stories. And I loved Kinsey and her prickliness and her found family and her stubbornness. I think it's time for a reread of a few. RIP, Sue.
posted by PussKillian at 3:58 PM on December 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

Another gasp-out-loud, oh no. It never occurred to me that she might die before the end of the series. Henry, yes, I half-dreaded picking up a new one in case she decided it was time for him to...

. for Kinsey
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:16 PM on December 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

posted by bjgeiger at 3:08 PM on December 31, 2017

I haven't thought about Grafton in years, but in the 80s her books introduced me to the idea of a strong, independent woman protagonist. I was shocked and thrilled that Kinsey would casually lie when working a, lying is something you can just do? In retrospect Kinsey Millhone was a role model. Not just for lying.
posted by medusa at 8:06 PM on December 31, 2017

My 92 year old grandmother lives near a Goodwill outlet store. She goes once a week and buys whatever books look interesting to her, mostly detective stories or crime novels. Paperbacks cost 10 cents; hardbacks are a quarter. She's filled three closets, two dressers, and the space under her bed with stacks upon stacks of books. Every time I visit, she sends me home with books. My last trip, over 200 came home with me. Three were Sue Grafton's.

posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 2:28 AM on January 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

Anyone want to read A-Y together over 2018? That's two books per month. I need a group thing/accountability thing for the year! It's not exactly a resolution but I'm learning that finishing things is super-important to me. I also haven't been reading enough in general.
posted by polly_dactyl at 9:18 AM on January 1, 2018

I'm tempted? I also have a goal of reading more, but I'm concerned that if 2 books a month are Sue Grafton, that might eat into the diversity of my reading. I'm going to start with A as soon as my hold comes in at the library, so I'm with you there, and then I'd maybe follow along at a slower pace.
posted by Secretariat at 4:44 PM on January 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

A Is For Appreciation: How Sue Grafton Helped Transform The Mystery Genre
Once those female private eyes and police detectives went to work investigating what Raymond Chandler famously called "a world gone wrong," the villains began to look radically different: mostly male and white. And in these feminist mysteries, evil wasn't imported into America from some exotic locale like it was, say, in The Maltese Falcon; rather, it sat squarely on Main Street — in banks, churches and corporations.

Grafton and that post-'60s generation of mystery writers revolutionized what had become fossilized formula fiction. They helped make the detective novel matter again.
posted by kliuless at 6:27 AM on January 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

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