Z Is for $Zillions: Sue Grafton, 1940-2017

January 3, 2018

“My name is Kinsey Milhone. I’m a private investigator, licensed by the state of California. I’m thirty-two years old, twice divorced, no kids. The day before yesterday, I killed someone and the fact weighs heavily on my mind.” These are the opening words of “A is for Alibi,” the first in the “alphabet series” of 25 mystery novels that would keep readers entertained for 35 years.

The stories emanated from the creative mind of Sue Grafton, and they ended with “Y is for Yesterday.” Ms. Grafton died on Dec. 28, 2017, after a two-year battle with cancer. Her daughter, Jamie Clark, posted the following: “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.”

Ms. Clark’s posting included this information for Grafton’s fans who wonder what might be coming next: “Many of you also know that she was adamant that her books would never be turned into movies or TV shows, and in the same vein, she would never allow a ghost writer to write in her name.”

Not only was Ms. Grafton a talented writer, but she was also wise in protecting the integrity of her books. Characters created by other novelists have been ruined by on-screen versions. I think this was true of Sara Paretsky’s protagonist V.I. Warshawski when casting directors put Kathleen Turner in the title role. Likewise, whoever cast the characters for the movie based on Janet Evanovich’s “numeral series” (“One for the Money,” “Two for the Dough,” etc.) did such damage that the film only played for a few days before disappearing into obscurity.

According to John Antczak, writing for the St. Augustine Record, Grafton’s husband, Steven Humphrey, added that Sue “had been struggling to find an idea for ‘Z’ while undergoing treatment for rare and usually fatal cancer of the appendix, which was discovered in a routine colonoscopy.” Humphrey told The Associated Press, “Nothing’s been written. There is no Z.”

Personally, I always thought that Z would be for $zillions, and it would be an autobiography based on the truckloads of money that came from the worldwide sales of her wonderful books which were published in 26 languages. I never met Ms. Grafton, but I’m pretty sure that we were browsing a bookstore in Montecito together many years ago. And, like her many fans, I’ll miss her.

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