Thursday, November 07, 2013

Sue Grafton and the Alphabet Series

I occasionally write book reviews, which I post here, or on Amazon, or on another of my websites. This really isn't a book review, but more of a commentary on Sue Grafton and her "alphabet series".

First, I wish Sue Grafton a very long, healthy, vigorous life.  According to Wikipedia, Ms. Grafton is 73.  While I do with her well, this, of course, is solely selfish.  I want to read her Kinsey Millhone “Alphabet” series for a long time.  I’m sure that I’m not the only fan who hopes she doesn’t retire after “Z”. (She is through the letter W currently).
In the protagonist Millhone, Grafton has created a self-reliant, disciplined, organized terrier of a private detective.  She lives a very modest lifestyle, is fiercely independent and very self-aware.  By-the-way, the series is set about twenty-five years ago, and has maintained that relationship to the current period.  Kinsey is generally a good, quick judge of character, is smart but not dazzlingly so, and solves each case as a result of tireless effort.

Ms. Grafton is a master of her craft.  While the writing is spare, she provides just the right amount of detail for the images of each scene to explode in the reader’s mind.   As the series has developed, she’s added a few recurring characters – regulars are  Kinsey’s landlord and friend Henry, Hungarian tavern owner Rosie, and a couple of on-again/off-again boyfriends.  While Kinsey long-believed that she was an orphan, she, and of course the readers, are learning that there are some relatives, which appear from time-to-time, usually not too welcomed.
Grafton also painstakingly researches each topic.  She recognizes all her sources and resources at the start of each novel.  It is only after reading a few  books in the series that it becomes obvious that she develops real knowledge on each topic before writing the book.

Most of the novels aren’t classic Ellery Queen style who-done-its, but rather a series of challenges between Kinsey and the bad guy(s).  And the bad guys tend to be small time crooks, crooked retirement home operators, or folks with broken moral compasses who cut corners, and occasionally those corners result in a murder.  Only every now and then is she up against organized crime or more serious criminals (see V is for Vengeance below).
Ms. Grafton writes each book as a standalone, so that new readers can enjoy and understand completely without having read others in the series.  However, if you read one and like it, I recommend that you go back to A is for Alibi and read them in order.
I prefer to binge-read the books.  I just completed U is for Undertow, V is for Vengeance and W is for Wasted.  Briefly on each: in U is for Undertow, Millhone is hired by a down-on-his-luck character who suddenly has a childhood recollection of  witnessing a burial in the woods.  He now thinks it was disposing of the body of a little girl who had been kidnapped. In V in for Vengeance, Millhone gets involved in a regional shoplifting ring. And in W is for Wasted, Millhone helps a former (and potentially future) boyfriend – also a PI) track down a doctor who committed murder to cover up his cooking the results of a drug study.  All feature Grafton’s taut style, thoroughly-researched backgrounds, and page- turning suspense.

I’m an avid detective/crime fiction reader going back to the Hardy Boys and Sherlock Holmes.  There isn’t a better written, more entertaining or enjoyable series than Grafton’s Alphabet series.
I noticed in two of the last three books, Kinsey has made more money than she usually makes for her private detective work.  I hope Ms. Grafton isn't setting up Kinsey, and herself, for retirement after Z....

Ms. Grafton - if someone happens to forward this to you, note that Rex Stout wrote 47 Nero Wolfe mysteries, with the last one when he was 88.
Binge-reading the alphabet series makes me sleep-deprived; nonetheless:  To long life Ms. Grafton, to long life.

No comments: