Grafton, Sue 1940–

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Grafton, Sue 1940–

PERSONAL: Born April 24, 1940, in Louisville, KY; daughter of Chip Warren (an attorney and writer) and Vivian Boisseau (a high school chemistry teacher; maiden name, Harnsberger) Grafton; married third husband Steven F. Humphrey (a professor of philosophy), October 1, 1978; children: (first marriage) Leslie Flood; (second marriage) Jay Schmidt, Jamie Schmidt. Education: University of Louisville, B.A., 1961. Hobbies and other interests: Walking, reading, cooking, bridge.

ADDRESSES: Home—Montecito, CA, and Louisville, KY. Office—P.O. Box 41447, Santa Barbara, CA 93140. Agent—Molly Friedrich, Aaron Priest Agency, 708 Third Ave., 23rd Fl., New York, NY 10017-4103.

CAREER: Screenwriter and author. Has worked as a hospital admissions clerk, cashier, and clerical/medical secretary. Lecturer, Los Angeles City College, Long Beach, CA, City College, University of Dayton, Dayton, OH, and various writers' conferences, including Los Angeles Valley College, Albuquerque, Smithsonian Campus on the Mall, Antioch Writers Conference, Yellow Springs, OH, and Midwest Writers Conference, Canton, OH.

MEMBER: Writers Guild of America (West), Mystery Writers of America (president, 1994–95), Private Eye Writers of America (president, 1989–90).

AWARDS, HONORS: Christopher Award, 1979, for teleplay Walking through the Fire; Mysterious Stranger Award, Cloak and Clue Society, 1982–83, for A Is for Alibi; Shamus Award for best hardcover private eye novel, Private Eye Writers of America, and Anthony Award for best hardcover mystery, Mystery Readers of America, both 1985, both for B Is for Burglar; Macavity Award for best short story, and Anthony Award, both 1986, both for "The Parker Shotgun"; Edgar Award nomination, Mystery Writers of America, 1986, for teleplay Love on the Run; Anthony Award, 1987, for C Is for Corpse; Doubleday Mystery Guild Award, 1989, for E Is for Evidence; American Mystery Award, best short story, 1990, for "A Poison That Leaves No Trace"; Falcon Award for best mystery novel, Maltese Falcon Society of Japan, and Doubleday Mystery Guild Award, both 1990, both for F Is for Fugitive; Doubleday Mystery Guild Award, Shamus Award, and Anthony Award, all 1991, all for G Is for Gumshoe; Doubleday Mystery Guild Award, and American Mystery Award, both 1992, both for H Is for Homicide; Doubleday Mystery Guild Award, 1993, for I Is for Innocent, and 1994, for J Is for Judgment; Shamus Award, 1995, and Doubleday Mystery Guild Award, 1995, both for K Is for Killer.



Keziah Dane (novel) Macmillan (New York, NY), 1967.

The Lolly-Madonna War (novel; also see below), P. Owen (New York, NY), 1969.

A Is for Alibi (Mystery Guild main selection; also see below), Holt (New York, NY), 1982.

B Is for Burglar (Mystery Guild main selection; also see below), Holt (New York, NY), 1985.

C Is for Corpse (Mystery Guild main selection; also see below), Holt (New York, NY), 1986.

D Is for Deadbeat, Holt (New York, NY), 1987.

E Is for Evidence, Holt (New York, NY), 1988.

F Is for Fugitive, Holt (New York, NY), 1989.

G Is for Gumshoe, Holt (New York, NY), 1990.

H Is for Homicide, Holt (New York, NY), 1991.

I Is for Innocent, Holt (New York, NY), 1992.

(Editor) Writing Mysteries: A Handbook, Writer's Digest (Cincinnati, OH), 1992, 2nd edition, 2002.

Kinsey and Me (short stories), Bench Press (Columbia, SC), 1992.

J Is for Judgment, Holt (New York, NY), 1993.

K Is for Killer, Holt (New York, NY), 1994.

L Is for Lawless (Mystery Guild and Literary Guild main selections), Holt (New York, NY), 1995.

M Is for Malice, Holt (New York, NY), 1996.

N Is for Noose, Holt (New York, NY), 1998.

(Editor, with Otto Penzler) The Best American Mystery Stories 1998, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1998.

O Is for Outlaw, Holt (New York, NY), 1999.

Three Complete Novels ("A" Is for Alibi, "B" Is for Burglar, and "C" Is for Corpse) Wings Books (New York, NY), 1999.

P Is for Peril, Penguin Putnam (New York, NY), 2001.

Q Is for Quarry, Penguin Putnam (New York, NY), 2002.

R Is for Ricochet, Penguin Putnam (New York, NY), 2004.

S Is for Silence, Penguin Putnam (New York, NY), 2005.

Contributor of "Kinsey Millhone" short stories to anthologies, including Mean Streets: The Second Private Eye Writers of America Anthology, edited by Robert J. Randisi, 1986; Sisters in Crime, edited by Marilyn Wallace, 1989; and A Woman's Eye, edited by Sara Paretsky and Martin H. Greenburg, 1991. Contributor to periodicals, including California Review and Redbook. The "Kinsey Millhone" novels have been translated into numerous languages, including Dutch, Russian, Polish, Spanish, and French, and have also been released as audiobooks.


(With Rodney Carr-Smith) Lolly-Madonna XXX (adapted from Sue Grafton's novel The Lolly-Madonna War), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1973.

Walking through the Fire (adapted from the novel by Laurel Lee), Columbia Broadcasting Corp. (CBS-TV), 1979.

Sex and the Single Parent (adapted from the book by Jane Adams), CBS-TV, 1979.

Nurse (adapted from the book by Peggy Anderson), CBS-TV, 1980.

Mark, I Love You (adapted from the book by Hal Painter), CBS-TV, 1980.

(With husband, Steven F. Humphrey) Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (pilot), CBS-TV, 1982.

(With Steven F. Humphrey) A Caribbean Mystery (adapted from the novel by Agatha Christie), CBS-TV, 1983.

(With Steven F. Humphrey and Robert Aller) A Killer in the Family, American Broadcasting Co. (ABC-TV), 1983.

(With Steven F. Humphrey and Robert Malcolm Young) Sparkling Cyanide (adapted from the novel by Agatha Christie), CBS-TV, 1983.

(With Steven F. Humphrey) Love on the Run, National Broadcasting Co. (NBC-TV), 1985.

(With Steven F. Humphrey) Tonight's the Night, ABC-TV, 1987.

Contributor of scripts to television series, including Rhoda, 1975. Story editor, Steven F. Humphrey, for television series Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, 1982–83.

SIDELIGHTS: Sue Grafton, according to Andrea Chambers in People, "is perhaps the best of the new breed of female mystery writers, who are considered the hottest segment of the market." In her mystery stories featuring California private investigator Kinsey Millhone, Grafton has chosen to feature a heroine rather than the traditional male hero. Nonetheless, as Deirdre Donahue observed in USA Today, "Grafton draws on elements of the classic private-eye genre." In Millhone, David Lehman of Newsweek told prospective readers, "you'll find a thoroughly up-to-date, feminine version of Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler's hard-boiled hero."

The hard-boiled detective story traditionally features a male protagonist and a lot of action—gunplay, bloodshed, and general mayhem. Heroes such as Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade, Raymond Chandler's Marlowe, and Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer defined masculinity for a generation of readers with their "loner" mentalities and their sensitivity to the profound difference between the mean streets and the normal world. Yet Grafton's Millhone is as popular as any of her precursors, male or female. New York Times Book Review contributor Vincent Patrick suggested that the reason behind her popularity is that Millhone is, in fact, a traditional hero: "Chandler's concept of a detective hero was that 'he must be the best man in his world, and a good enough man for any world.' Gender aside, Kinsey [Millhone] fills that prescription perfectly."

Along with Sara Paretsky, Grafton is credited with establishing female detectives in the hard-boiled genre. The two authors introduced their characters, V.I. Warshawski and Kinsey Millhone, within a few months of each other in 1982. "There had been female sleuths in crime fiction before, of course," wrote Josh Rubins in the New York Times Book Review, "like the eponymous heroine of the 1910 book Lady Molly of Scotland Yard, Miss Marple, Nancy Drew and Amanda Cross's Kate Fansler. There had even been a thoroughly believable homicide cop named Christie Opara (in Dorothy Uh-nak's landmark police novels of the 1960's and 70's)…. However, Kinsey and V. I. were the first women to … [bury] the stereotypes about 'lady detectives' and [clear] a path for the dozens of tough-minded, ready-for-anything heroines who have become a major element in the genre."

Other than establishing a heroine in a traditionally male role, Grafton, according to certain critics, has left intact the framework of the hard-boiled detective story. Ed Weiner wrote in the New York Times Book Review that neither Grafton nor her peers "have gone so far as to redefine the genre. They play it fairly safe and conventional. But in their work there is thankfully little of the macho posturing and sluggish rogue beefcake found so often in the male versions, no Hemingwayesque mine-is-bigger-than-yours competitive literary swaggering." Women's Review of Books contributor Maureen T. Reddy declared that Grafton's books "implicitly question, and undermine, received wisdom about gender-specific character traits, but are not otherwise feminist." Instead, Weiner explained, "she has successfully replaced the raw, masculine-fantasy brutality and gore of the [Robert] Parkers and [Jonathan] Valins and [Elmore] Leonards with heart-pounding, totally mesmerizing suspense." "Millhone … got our attention by crashing the private eyes' stag party," Rubins declared. She's "kept it by building, in fits and starts, [her] own rather lonely, increasingly distinctive worlds."

Grafton has also kept readers and attracted new ones by allowing Millhone to develop throughout her novels. "Grafton, always competent, comes roaring out of the '80s with an expanded vision of her heroine and a willingness to take risks," declared Chicago Tribune contributor Kevin Moore in a review of G Is for Gumshoe. "People buy and read Grafton's books because they believe in Kinsey Millhone, and want to know what's happening in her life," wrote Dick Adler in a Chicago Tribune review of J Is for Judgment several years later. "In her ten books [Grafton] has managed … to create a deeper, softer, more approachable central character."

But some of the elements in the series remain the same. "Like those Saturday afternoon serials of yore," declared Washington Post Book World reviewer Maureen Corrigan, writing about K Is for Killer, "many a mystery novel has tied its readers up in knots over some subplot complication and abandoned them on the railroad tracks of anticipation, only to delay rescue till the next installment." Corrigan traced some new complications introduced in the previous volume, J Is for Judgment (Millhone, introduced as an orphan in the beginning of the series, turns out to have some distant relatives), and noted that "curious Kinsey fans will fling open K Is for Killer … and race through its pages only to discover … that Kinsey is still mulling over what to do about her relatives." In an earlier example taken from G Is for Gumshoe, Millhone moves back into her apartment which had been partly destroyed by a bomb in the previous book. "You know you are deep in the land of fiction," wrote New York Times Book Review contributor Alex Kozinski, "when you find a landlord in Southern California willing to rent a newly renovated apartment for $200 a month, particularly to a tenant known to be a target for bombers."

This question of resolution is something that regularly troubles Grafton. The writer once stated that her late father C. W. Grafton (who published three mysteries during his lifetime) was "very passionate about mystery novels, which he wrote at the office in the evenings…. At this point, I would love to sit down and talk to him about plotting, which to me is the great 'bug-a-boo' of mystery." In order to bring the plots under control, Grafton told Enid Nemy of the New York Times, she keeps a comprehensive notebook containing all the information she has researched on a topic. "Every three or four weeks, I go through it and highlight what interests me," she said. "Then the story emerges, and from that, the angle of attack, who hires Kinsey, what she's hired to do. Sometimes I walk down roads that don't go anywhere." When plot complications held up the publication of K Is for Killer, for instance, reported Wall Street Journal contributor Tom Nolan, hundreds of readers called their bookstores to complain. Grafton told Nolan, "A bookstore owner in Pasadena called me and said, 'You have no idea what rumors are circulating!'"

In the fourteenth installment in the series, N Is for Noose, Millhone leaves her home base of Santa Teresa, California, to investigate circumstances surrounding the death of Sheriff Tom Newquist in Nota Lake, Nevada. Although Newquist apparently died of natural causes, his wife, Selma, suspects the stress of a recent case involving a double homicide was what brought it on. As Millhone seeks the dead Sheriff's missing notebook, she confronts hostile townsfolk and endures a serious beating. Writing in Library Journal, Wilda Williams observed that N Is for Noose serves up less violence and plot action than the average Millhone caper, with "more emphasis on character" and "an almost melancholic mood." While praising "Grafton's easy-reading prose and her heroine's sharp humor," a Publishers Weekly reviewer lodged a similar reaction, complaining of "a slew of plot weaknesses." However, Emily Melton of Booklist found N Is for Noose to be "one of the best to date in Grafton's supremely popular series." Melton also commented: "Grafton has such a strong following … that virtually anything she writes shoots to the top of the best-seller lists. Fortunately, the fame is, by and large, well deserved."

In O Is for Outlaw Grafton further develops Millhone's history and character as the private investigator is drawn into a case involving her own past. Dubbed "one of the very best entries in a long-lived and much-loved series" by a Publishers Weekly reviewer, the mystery begins with an undelivered letter discovered in an abandoned storage locker. The fourteen-year-old letter concerns Millhone's first ex-husband, Mickey Magruder, a former vice officer once accused of beating a man to death. It contains evidence that might exonerate Mickey of the crime, which not only caused his expulsion from the police force but prompted Millhone to divorce him only months into their marriage. The plot thickens and accelerates as Mickey is shot with Millhone's gun and hospitalized in a coma. Millhone must delve back into the sixties and the Vietnam War to discover Mickey's assailant and determine his own guilt or innocence. "Kin-sey is sassier than ever," noted Karen Anderson of Library Journal, "the supporting characters are amusingly eccentric, and the mysteries, both past and present, are intriguing." According to Melton, in O Is for Outlaw Grafton delivers "a novel of depth and substance that is, in every way, the class of the series."

Entering the new millennium with P Is for Peril, Mill-hone finds herself embroiled in a missing persons case involving a rich doctor, a disgruntled and suspicious ex-wife, Medicare fraud at a nursing home, a confused teenager, and an ex-stripper. Meanwhile, the sleuth has become romantically involved with the twin brother of her office landlord, a man accused of murdering his parents ten years earlier. "As always," remarked Connie Fletcher in Booklist, "Grafton gives us a truly complex heroine, marvelous depictions of Southern California architecture and interiors, and a writing style that can make a weed path interesting." Williams gave Grafton "an A for maintaining her series's high standard of excellence."

On her Web site, Grafton shares with fans the evolution of R is for Ricochet. Referring to the extensive notes she keeps when writing, she explains: "I'd written the first 15 pages of the manuscript, double-spaced. At that same point in time, I had 100 pages, single-spaced, written in my journal…. On January 26, 2004, twenty-three months from the time I began, I completed the manuscript, which was 500 pages, double-spaced. The 9 journals I'd written simultaneously totaled 516 single-spaced pages. Yes, I'm nuts."

In 2005 Grafton completed the nineteenth novel in her alphabet series, S Is for Silence. Kinsey Millhone returns to investigate a case that remains unsolved after thirty-four years. Violet Sullivan disappeared from a Fourth of July party in 1953; in 1987 her now adult daughter Daisy hires Kinsey to put the mystery to rest. In the novel, Grafton's storytelling alternates between the current investigation and flashbacks from the fifties, creating "the freshest, tautest installment in quite a while," according to Mark Harris in Entertainment Weekly. "Grafton has hit upon an ingenious solution, one that enlivens the writing and the reading of the book without compromising the friendship readers have developed with Kinsey and with Grafton," noted Marta Salij in Detroit Free Press. Fletcher, again writing in Booklist, commented, "this novel also presents strong character portrayals, a mosaic of motives, and a stunning climax."

"When I decided to do mysteries," Grafton explained to Bruce Taylor in an interview in Armchair Detective, "I chose the classic private eye genre because I like playing hardball with the boys. I despise gender-segregated events of any kind." Part of Millhone's appeal lies in Grafton's concept of her character, whom she sees as "a stripped-down version of me," she told Taylor. "She's the person I would have been had I not married young and had children. She'll always be thinner and younger and braver, the lucky so-and-so. Her biography is different, but our sensibilities are identical. At the core, we're the same…. Because of Kinsey, I get to lead two lives—hers and mine. Sometimes I'm not sure which I prefer." In a question and answer session on the McDougal Littell Web site, Grafton stated: "I do enjoy being a writer. The truth is, there's nothing I'd rather do with my life, but writing is 'fun' in the same way lifting weights is fun. It's hard and it hurts."



Kaufman, Natalie Hevener, and Carol McGinnis Kay, "G" Is for Grafton: The World of Kinsey Millhone, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 1997.


Armchair Detective, spring, 1988; winter, 1989; fall, 1989, p. 368; spring, 1991, p. 229. Belles Lettres, summer, 1990.

Booklist, February 15, 1998, Emily Melton, review of N Is for Noose, p. 948; June 1, 1999, Emily Melton, review of O Is for Outlaw, p. 1742; March 15, 2001, Connie Fletcher, review of P Is for Peril, p. 1332; September 15, 2005, Connie Fletcher, review of S Is for Silence, p. 6.

Chicago Tribune, May 6, 1990, p. 6; May 4, 1992, p. 3; May 4, 1993, p. 3.

Detroit Free Press, Marta Salij, "S Is for Silence: Sue Grafton Does a Little Time Traveling for Alphabet Mystery No. 19."

English Journal, February, 1992, p. 95.

Entertainment Weekly, Mark Harris, "Alphabet Snoop: P.I. Kinsey Millhone Returns to Form in Sue Grafton's New Mystery, S Is for Silence," p. 91.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), June 20, 1987; May 21, 1988.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2001, review of P Is for Peril, p. 296.

Library Journal, March 1, 1998, Wilda Williams, review of N Is for Noose, p. 127; August 1999, Karen Anderson, review of O Is for Outlaw, p. 146; April 15, 2001, Wilda Williams, review of P Is for Peril, p. 131.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 4, 1985; May 14, 1989; May 12, 1991; October 8, 1995.

Newsweek, June 7, 1982; June 9, 1986.

New Yorker, June 27, 1994.

New York Times, May 8, 1991, p. C19; August 4, 1994, pp. C1, C10.

New York Times Book Review, May 23, 1982; May 1, 1988, pp. 11-12; May 21, 1989, p. 17; May 27, 1990, p. 13; July 28, 1991, p. 8; May 24, 1992, p. 25; May 2, 1993, p. 22; May 1, 1994, p. 24; October 8, 1995, p. 24.

People, July 10, 1989, Andrea Chambers, "Make No Bones about It, Sue Grafton's Detective Heroine Is a Real Pistol," p. 81; May 9, 1994, Lorenzo Carca-terra, review of K is for Killer, p. 29.

Publishers Weekly, February 16, 1998, review of N Is for Noose, p. 206; April 5, 1985, p. 66; March 14, 1986, p. 104; August 30, 1999, review of O Is for Outlaw, p. 55; May 21, 2001, review of P Is for Peril, p. 84.

Reason, December, 1994, p. 52.

Spectator, September 27, 1969.

USA Today, July 27, Deirdre Donahue, 1989.

Wall Street Journal, August 29, 1995, Tom Nolan, p. A12.

Washington Post Book World, May 18, 1986, pp. 8, 13; June 21, 1987; May 19, 1991; May 24, 1992, p. 6; April 17, 1994.

Women's Review of Books, December, 1986, p. 8; July, 1989.


McDougal Littell Web site, (June 6, 2001), "Your Conversation with Sue Grafton."

Sue Grafton Web site, (August 4, 2004).

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Grafton, Sue 1940–

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