Mystery writer Sue Grafton passes away after a prolonged two-year battle with cancer
Despite it initially looking as though her condition might improve, Grafton has passed away, ending a two-year fight with appendix cancer. In a heartfelt post on Facebook, her daughter paid tribute to one of the great mystery writers of our time
Crime and mystery novelist Sue Grafton, who became known worldwide for her Alphabet series which began with A Is for Alibi in 1982 and saw Y Is for Yesterday released this past August, has passed away following a prolonged two-year battle with appendix cancer, her daughter confirmed in a Facebook post. She was 77.
The post read: "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," adding that Sue had been surrounded by family during her last moments, including her devoted and adoring husband Steve Humphrey.
It continued: "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." Alexis Welby, the director of publicity at her publisher, GP Putnam's Sons told CNN that Grafton passed away at the Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, California.
Grafton had always claimed that the strongest influence on her crime novels was author Ross Macdonald. She had begun writing when she was just 18-years-old and finished her first novel four years later. She would continue writing and finish six more manuscripts, but only two of these would become novels. Unable to find success, she turned to manuscripts and for the next 15 years, she wrote television screenplays for shows such as Sex and the Single Parent, Mark, I Love You, and Nurse. With the help of her husband, she even adapted the Agatha Christie novels A Caribbean Mystery and Sparkling Cyanide for television.
While going through a bitter divorce and custody battle that lasted six long years, Grafton imagined ways to kill or maim her ex-husband, with these fantasies being so vivid, that she decided to write them down. Then, while reading Edward Gorey's The Gashlycrumb Tinies, an alphabetical picture book of children who die by various means, she had the idea to write a series of novels based on the alphabet and thus began the chronological series of mystery novels she became best known for: the Alphabet series.
Each novel is written from the perspective of feisty private female investigator Kinsey Millhone, who lives in the fictional town of Santa Teresa, California. Millhone has trouble dealing with bureaucratic red tape, has an aversion to cooking, a lack of interest in fashion, and an affinity for books. The character became so popular, that Grafton was eventually able to quit her screenwriting job and write a brief biography of Millhone.
The books are littered with tributes to her inspiration, Macdonald. Santa Teresa was named so because Macdonald had chosen to use the same name as a replacement for Santa Barbara himself. In the books, Millhone also refers to her private investigator license as a "photostat," similar to Macdonald's character Archer.
Having begun with "A" Is for Alibi, the books continued in their alphabetical fashion with "B" Is for Burglar, "C" Is for Corpse, "D" Is for Deadbeat and so son, with every novel following a similar pattern; the exception being her penultimate novel, which was named just "X."
Her novels have seen her win a lengthy list of accolades. Grafton's B Is for Burglar and C Is for Corpse won the first two Anthony Awards for Best Novel (1986 & 1987) and the 2004 Ross Macdonald Literary Award, which is given to "a California writer whose work raises the standard of literary excellence." In 2008 Grafton was awarded the Cartier Dagger by the British Crime Writers' Association, honoring a lifetime's achievement in the field and in 2009, she received the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America.
Z Is for Zero was set to release tentatively in 2019 but that now remains in serious doubt. Grafton consistently refused to sell the film and television rights to her books because she said her time writing screenplays had 'cured' her of the desire to work with Hollywood. She also threatened to haunt her children if they had sold the film rights after she passed away.
Her daughter also says that Grafton would never allow a ghostwriter to write in her name, posting on Facebook: "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."
Deeply saddened to hear of the death of Sue Grafton. She was amazingly generous to me when I was starting out and remained a good and supportive pal. And Kinsey Millhone was one of the pioneering female PIs who showed the rest of us the way.— Val McDermid (@valmcdermid) 29 December 2017
As news of her death was confirmed, many took to social media to express their grief and convey their condolences. British crime writer Val McDermid, best known for a series of suspense novels featuring Dr Tony Hill, posted on Twitter: "Deeply saddened to hear of the death of Sue Grafton. She was amazingly generous to me when I was starting out and remained a good and supportive pal. And Kinsey Millhone was one of the pioneering female PIs who showed the rest of us the way."
Very sad to hear that the wonderful Sue Grafton has passed. She forged a path for women in crime fiction, and all of us followed and adored her. Deepest condolences to her family.— Lisa Scottoline (@LisaScottoline) 29 December 2017
Lisa Scottoline, an American author of a series of legal thrillers, wrote: "Very sad to hear that the wonderful Sue Grafton has passed. She forged a path for women in crime fiction, and all of us followed and adored her. Deepest condolences to her family."
I'm deeply grieved to learn of Sue Grafton's death. Kinsey and VI were both born in 1982 and our writing worlds have been closely twined ever since. This is a grievous loss— Sara Paretsky (@SaraParetsky) 29 December 2017
Sara Paretsky, best known for her novels focused on the female protagonist VI Warshawski, tweeted: "I'm deeply grieved to learn of Sue Grafton's death. Kinsey and VI were both born in 1982 and our writing worlds have been closely twined ever since. This is a grievous loss."
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