This month the local mystery group is meeting to discuss Sue Grafton’s books. I hope to attend and to that end I have been reading and re-reading her alphabet mysteries: A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, etc. until Y is for Yesterday. Sadly, Grafton died before she could complete the final books in her alphabet series. In fact, she died less than one year ago, in December of 2017, having succumbed to cancer. She was 77. (We are contemporaries.)
While browsing in the library, I came across a book I had not seen, called Kinsey and Me stories, published in 2013. Part one features detective stories starring her alter-ego Kinsey Millhone, P.I., a character that I feel I know personally from reading so many of her books.
Writing a mystery in 3 or 4 pages is no small feat, but Grafton is good at her craft as a writer, so her stories are enjoyable and interesting. Solving a crime is so short a time on paper is not easy!
In her story “long gone,” she writes about September in Santa Teresa, the town she uses in her novels, which may just be where she lived in Montecito, CA. The first paragraph of that story seems to echo my own feelings about September. Here it is as a direct quote:
“September in Santa Teresa. I’ve never known anyone yet who doesn’t suffer a certain restlessness when autumn rolls around. It’s the season of new school clothes, fresh notebooks, and finely sharpened pencils without any teethmarks in the wood. We’re all eight year olds again and anything is possible. The new year should never begin on January 1. It begins in the fall and our lunch boxes have no dents.”
Actually, this example is one of the reasons I love her books. She writes about real people and real feelings. I would have liked to know her and I miss knowing she will not write any more books.
The second part of the book, “Me,” is not easy reading, because it is really a mini-memoir of growing up with alcoholic parents and writing about all the pain of seeing her mother slowly die, although she uses Kit Blue as the storyteller. She writes about her mother’s suicide when Sue at the end of her teens, and of course, it affected her work and her personal life. Like Kinsey, she was divorced twice and I think her childhood may have influenced her issues with close relationships. One of “stories” in this section is called “The Closet” and Grafton writes all about the contents of her mother’s room. It sounds as though it might be boring, but the author has a way with words that you can only really appreciate after reading several of her stories or books.
The last “story” in the second half is called “a letter from my father,” and it is very moving. I cried as I was reading it, because she writes how painful it is as she notes: ” The letter is the story of your life, all the stuff of which you are made….” writing in the third person, as Kit Blue, perhaps on purpose to remove herself from the pain of the words.
If you have never read Sue Grafton, this book is a good place to start, because you read her work as well as information about her life. And having read her difficult early life I have even more admiration for her, because she was able to work through her feelings through her novels, making them excellent reading because they are full of feelings many of us never discuss.
Kinsey and Me Stories is published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, NY, 2013
Internet photo of Sue Grafton. She had a great smile!