After a two-year battle with cancer, Louisville native and iconic mystery writer, Sue Grafton, died in Santa Barbara, California at the age of 77.
Most known for her ‘alphabet’ crime series books starring the private eye Kinsey Millhone character, Grafton spent time between her Kentucky and California homes and it was on the west coast where she spent her final moments surrounded by family.
“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,” Grafton’s daughter Jamie Clark said in a Facebook post.
“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.”
Grafton’s crime novel series each began with a different letter of the alphabet, which gained her notoriety. In 1982, the first of the series “A is for Alibi,” was published and her last book “Y is for Yesterday,” was released in August of 2017.
Unfortunately, Grafton’s death occurred before she could give a finale for Kinsey Millhone with “Z is for Zero,” which was scheduled to be released in 2019.
According to her husband, Steven Humphrey, Grafton was unable to come up with a concept she liked for the final book while undergoing cancer treatment.
The New York Times best-selling author garnered many accolades including three Shamus Awards (1986, 1991, 1995), the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers of America and the Ross Macdonald Literary Award, which boasts former winners such as James Elroy, Mark Salzman and Dean Koontz.
However, Grafton’s love for her Kentucky roots made her appreciate the “Hometown Hero” banner the city of Louisville awarded her, more than anything else in her career.
She attended Atherton High School and graduated from the University of Louisville in 1961 and it was here, where her father’s passion for detective stories inspired her path in the genre.
The writer would occasionally use her hometown or parts of it at least, for the adventures in her book. In “O is for Outlaw,” the character goes to Louisville for research.
In “L is for Lawless,” Grafton wanted to use Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery as the setting for the end of the book but the owner refused due to her fear of tourists bothering the property.
The owner had heard Bonaventure Cemetery kept getting lots of visitors because it was featured in the novel “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and wanted no part of it. So Grafton changed the name of the cemetery to “Twelve Oaks” and placed it way out in Oldham County because “I didn’t want her thinking my dead people were poaching on hers.”
After a 30-year absence from the state, Grafton came back to Louisville to be honored with the Distinguished Alumni Award by the University of Louisville. While at a luncheon for the event, she was impressed that people at her table were discussing how to improve the city.
The moment had a significant impact on her because according to Grafton, in Hollywood, at luncheons you talk about your psychic nutritionist and high colonics. But Louisville isn’t Hollywood.
That same weekend, she and her husband went out and bought a house to become Kentucky residents again and in 2000, they bought and restored Lincliff, a 30-acre Georgian Revival house on the banks of the Ohio River.
For the author, fixing the derelict property served as a love letter to the city. She loved her Kentucky roots. She adored the people and her fans in the state took pride in her being one of them. That is why her passing stings to literary fans in the Bluegrass.
“At the Carnegie Center, we’re feeling B is for bummed,” author and Executive Director of the Carnegie Center Neil Chethik said. “Sue Grafton was one of the top-selling Kentucky writers of all time, and she represented the state well. She was a trailblazer among women mystery authors. For many of her fans, there will always be only 25 letters in the alphabet.”
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