Sue Grafton, 1940 - 2017

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The publishing world lost a legend and friend, Sue Grafton, #1 New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal– bestselling author of the ground-breaking Alphabet Mystery series featuring beloved Private Investigator Kinsey Millhone, died on Thursday, December 28 in Santa Barbara after a two-year battle with cancer of the appendiceil.  She was 77. 

Ivan Held, President of G.P. Putnam’s Sons, said, “Everyone who worked with Sue admired her, flipped for the books, and were in awe of her 25-book creation, Kinsey Milhone.  But on top of that — we also all LOVED her.  With her wry, Kentucky accent she inspired a really deep and genuine love from everyone who worked with her in house.”

Thirty-five years ago, Grafton launched one of the most acclaimed and celebrated mystery series of all time with A is for Alibi, and with it created the model of the modern female detective with Kinsey Millhone, a feisty, whip-smart woman who is not above breaking the rules to solve a case or save a life.  Like her fictional alter ego, Grafton was a true original, a model for every woman who has ever said the hell with this and struck out on her own independent way.

Grafton’s books have sold untold millions and are published in twenty-eight countries and in twenty-six languages—including Estonian, Bulgarian, and Indonesian. Her most recent novel, Y IS FOR YESTERDAY, which published in August 2017, received with tremendous praise and debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.

News of her passing ran in outlets throughout the country (and world) including in the New York Times, Associated Press,  USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, Vanity Fair, Vulture, NPR, and CNN.  The Washington Post wrote, “[Kinsey Millhone is] one of the most endearing, vivid and memorable characters in modern crime fiction … Ms. Grafton examines human character as deeply as any clues that might solve a crime. Critics noted that the stories often had an undercurrent of tender observation seldom found in the hard-boiled fiction of male writers.”

There has been an outpouring of love on social media from fans including former president Bill Clinton, who tweeted, “RIP Sue Grafton. Hillary and I loved all your novels from A is for Alibi to Y is for Yesterday. We’ll miss Kinsey and you. Godspeed.”

Fellow authors shared their fond remembrances of Sue including Louise Penny, who said, “Kinsey was a brilliant creation and a companion for many of us, for years. Thank you, Sue, for leading the way. And for always being so gracious to those of us who followed.” David Baldacci wrote, “To know Sue Grafton was an honor. To call her a friend was a thrill. She was a great writer, one of our absolute best in any genre, but she was an even greater person. 2018 will be far emptier without her.” And James Lee Burke, who said, “Everyone liked Sue. She had a great wit and knew how to bring the house down, without ever being grandiose. Her passing is a big loss. Sue was a real trooper, one of those who sets the standard. I think her greatest gift to others is the dignity and composure and confidence and perseverance that characterized her career. I think that’s a pretty good legacy to leave behind.

Sue Grafton
(c) Steven Humphrey

Anyway, here’s to you, Sue. You’re the best.” More remembrances came from the likes of C.J. Box, Robert Crais, Daniel Silva, Eric Jerome Dickey, Harlan Coben, Lisa Scottoline, Ruth Ware. Sandra Brown, Sara Paretsky, Jeff Abbott, Laura Lippman, Faye Kellerman, Debbie Macomber, Alafair Burke, and Meg Gardiner, to name a few.

Sue and Kinsey will be remembered as international icons (both adored a peanut butter and pickle sandwich and a timeless black wrap dress) and treasured by millions of readers across lines of gender, geography, age, race, and creed. As Grafton’s daughter, Jamie, said in a statement on the author’s Facebook Page, “the alphabet now ends at Y.”

A personal remembrance from Marian Wood, Sue Grafton’s longtime editor and friend:

“In 1980, I got 60 pages of a manuscript. It was a snowy day and more bad weather was forecast, so I grabbed the 60 pages plus a couple of manuscripts and rode back to Brooklyn to enjoy a few snow days at home.

“I can tell you, I was stunned by those 60 pages. I wanted more. I wanted the whole book. I wanted to publish this amazing writer.

“But there was an obstacle. My publisher.

“‘I don’t get it,’ he said after reading those sixty pages. Luckily, I had already given them to the marketing director, who did get it and we became a team, and the publisher caved.  That was the beginning of A Is for Alibi.  You might say the rest is history as the books took off and the market grew exponentially.

“I’m a seat-of-the pants editor. When I read something and the bomb goes off in my head, I know it’s for me, I know it’s amazing, I know with backing, we can make it fly.  And so it was with the alphabet series. And sales multiplied with each new book.

“Sue Grafton was a find all right. She was also an extraordinary human being. Already forty with a ton of experience being pushed around by movie personnel, all she wanted was control over her work—no interference from pseudo-smart twenty-five year old movie mavens. Books offered her that. Let me tell you, by the time we connected, she was a tough, smart, and dedicated craftswoman and also the most generous and kindest writer you could work with. And so, for forty years, we worked and laughed and loved Kinsey. And so did the world it seemed.

“In truth, it was a marriage made in heaven though the then agent could never have known that. In my youth, I loathed Nancy Drew and could not tolerate Agatha Christie. But here, in Kinsey, was my dream character: sharp, funny, vulnerable, and tough. And a little off the grid when it came to relationships thanks to an irregular childhood and an aunt who sort of raised her. This was a new kind of detective: a woman with quirks but also with a sense of herself, with empathy but also with street smarts.   She opened a door for me and for thousands of women and, yes, men. It was a revelation how quickly men caught on to this oddball but terrific woman. She broke the gender barrier. There is a reason so many men and women named their daughters Kinsey over the years.

“Thank you Sue: You made a real difference in the lives of so many men and women even as you entertained us with so many wonderful and sometimes really scary books.

“My good fortune increased by the time Sue was ready to take on the next letter.  A Is for Alibi was selling like crazy, and Sue had gathered up her courage, left her agent, and took on Molly Friedrich, who has been with her—and me—since B Is for Burglar. I like to think we have made a really good team.

“Sue died this December. She had finished the letter Y in the series. There will never be a letter Z.  Just as she did not want anyone tampering with her work and therefore forbade any movies made from her books, so she made it clear there would never be a ghost writer.  So with Y Is for Yesterday, the alphabet ends. “

Posted: January 3, 2018