Sue Grafton, the bestselling writer behind the “Alphabet Series” of mystery novels, each named after a letter of the alphabet and featuring private investigator Kinsey Millhone, has died. Grafton’s daughter posted the news of her death earlier today on Facebook, saying that Grafton had died “after a two year battle with cancer” and that “as far as we in the family are concerned, the alphabet now ends at Y.” (Grafton’s last book, “Y” Is For Yesterday, was published in August.) She was 77.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Grafton worked a series of jobs as a young woman while writing a series of ultimately unpublished manuscripts. She began her professional career as a screenwriter, writing made-for-TV murder mysteries (including two Agatha Christie adaptations) and developing Peggy Anderson’s novel Nurse for TV. Around that same time, Grafton published her first Kinsey Millhone mystery, A Is For Alibi, in 1982. (In a 2008 interview, Grafton said she got into mystery novels as a writing exercise, with details inspired by vindictive daydreams about her soon-to-be-ex-husband. “I was in the midst of a divorce. I would lie in bed at night thinking of ways to kill him,” she said.)
At the time of her death, Grafton was the author of 25 Kinsey Millhone books, one away from her stated goal of finishing the alphabet. She received awards from several mystery writers’ associations for her work, which has been translated into 26 languages and sold millions of copies around the world. Grafton is perhaps described best in relation to her most famous creation on her website:
[S]he’s been married to Steve Humphrey for more than thirty-five years and has three children, four granddaughters, and one great grandson. She loves cats, gardens, and good cuisine—not quite the nature-hating, fast-food loving Millhone. So: readers and reviewers beware. Never assume the author is the character in the book. Sue ... is only in her imagination Kinsey Millhone—but what a splendid imagination it is.