Sue Grafton, the bestselling mystery writer of the alphabet series, centered around detective Kinsey Millhone, passed away at the age of 77, after a two-year battle with cancer. Who was Grafton, how did she come up with the alphabet mystery series, and why is the alphabet ending at the letter Y?
Grafton’s daughter Jamie Clark went onto her mother’s Facebook page to announce to fans of her passing from unidentified cancer.
“Hello Dear Readers. This is Sue’s daughter, Jamie. I am sorry to tell you all that Sue passed away last night after a two year battle with cancer.”
The famed author of the Kinsey Millhone Alphabet series had been well until days before her death. She died with her family and her beloved husband Steve by her side.
“She was surrounded by family, including her devoted and adoring husband Steve. Although we knew this was coming, it was unexpected and fast. She had been fine up until just a few days ago, and then things moved quickly.”
Unlike many other mystery series, from Midsomer Murders to the Murder She Baked series, Grafton did not want her books to be on television or made into movies for the sake of her fans and for herself. She always felt that no living actress could play Kinsey Millhone in the way that she or her fans would wish.
For this reason, the family will never allow a ghost writer to complete the series with the letter Z, as Jamie states in the Facebook message.
“Sue always said that she would continue writing as long as she had the juice. 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.”
What may be the strangest part of Grafton’s aversion to film is that according to the Seattle Times, Sue Grafton spent 15 years writing for television and movies.
At 42, she serendipitously began writing detective mysteries after writing seven non-mystery novels that “went nowhere.”
She was suddenly inspired by Edward Gorey’s rather dark, Gothic children’s book, The Gashlycrumb Tinies, which included “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs / B is for Basil assaulted by bears.”
Then Grafton began to write down as many “crime-related words” she could muster, beginning with A Is for Alibi, which became the name of her first novel, and a brilliant idea was born.
“I didn’t have a contract, I’d never written a mystery in my life. The fun of it! I had nothing at stake, so I just flat out did what I felt like.”
A Is For Alibi started her series, with the introduction of her smart and spunky new heroine, detective Kinsey Millhone. Many could say that Kinsey Millhone was Sue Grafton’s alter ego.
The book was “dedicated to her father Chip,” an unsuccessful mystery writer who “set me on this path.”
Unlike many writers, Grafton never wrote an outline, and instead, let her characters create the action, and that is why she became instantly popular.
Because of her time in movies and television, she claimed that she could write those very action scenes that fans around the world love to read.
“Hollywood taught me how to write dialogue. I learned how to get into a scene and out of it, I learned to do action sequences, and I learned how to structure a story, and those things have served me so well.”
Six months ago, Grafton discussed what she wanted to do for her final Z book. She was determined not to overdo it, but instead create a really good story.
“I don’t want fireworks, I don’t want to go out in a blaze of glory. I think it should be a book like the others — a good solid story and good detective work.”
According to the New York Times, Grafton’s husband Steve F. Humphrey explained that her cancer kept her from writing the final book. Yet, he did reveal that for 30 years she knew that this book would be called Z Is For Zero. As for now, Grafton fans will always know the alphabet as ending in Y.