Grafton, C(ornelius) W(arren) 1909–1982
GRAFTON, C(ornelius) W(arren) 1909–1982
PERSONAL: Born 1909, in China; died 1982; children: Sue. Education: Earned degrees in journalism and law.
CAREER: Attorney in Louisville, KY.
AWARDS, HONORS: Mary Roberts Rinehart award, 1943.
The Rat Began to Gnaw the Rope (crime), Farrar & Rinehart (New York, NY), 1943.
The Rope Began to Hang the Butcher (crime), Farrar & Rinehart (New York, NY), 1944.
My Name Is Christopher Nagel, Rinehart (New York, NY), 1947.
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (crime), Rinehart (New York, NY), 1950.
SIDELIGHTS: Attorney C. W. Grafton, the father of bestselling author Sue Grafton, only wrote a handful of novels in his lifetime, but his three mysteries, The Rat Began to Gnaw the Rope, The Rope Began to Hang the Butcher, and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt have been compared to the works of such writers as Erle Stanley Gardner, Rex Stout, and Raymond Chandler. Grafton took his first two titles from a nursery rhyme, and had he continued to write more in the series, books such as "The Water Began to Quench the Fire" and "The Stick Began to Beat the Dog" would have been next. As it is, Grafton's lawyer protagonist Gilmore Henry of Calhoun County, Kentucky, appears only in The Rat Began to Gnaw the Rope and The Rope Began to Hang the Butcher.
These books combine fast-paced plotting and a breezy style with the author's thorough knowledge of the law, as well as of the business world. His invention of crimes with their roots in events decades in the past foreshadows some of the techniques of John D. MacDonald and Ross Macdonald. More determined than some writers to root his fiction in a specific time, Grafton also conveys a strong sense of immediate pre-World War II America with war clouds conspicuous on the horizon. At times, he throws in as many topical references (prices and products; song titles; names of radio and movie stars, politicians, and sports heroes) as would someone writing a historical novel about the time.
The Rat Began to Gnaw the Rope is a complex tale about a stock manipulation scheme. Henry, a short, chubby, but likable character, is introduced as a sleuth not quite in the same mold as his predecessors. The wounds—mostly physical—he suffers during his investigations affect him more personally than the average hard-boiled hero, and he consequently comes off as a more sensitive character. In The Rope Began to Hang the Butcher there is more court action than in the previous Henry book; the portrait of a backwoodsy Kentucky court where the judge wanders around the room during the trial, challenging out-of-towners to tell him from advocates or spectators, is particularly unique. This time, Henry must unravel a scheme involving insurance and real estate, and he manages to do so with the all the perspicuity of the fictional Perry Mason.
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, Grafton's return to the genre without his series character, is his best-known book. An unusual and suspenseful courtroom novel, the story reveals early on that lawyer Jess London is guilty of the not-unjustified murder of his brother-in-law, Mitchell Sothern. The novel draws its suspense from the question of whether and how he will manage to escape punishment. Tried for the crime after recanting an earlier confession, Jess acts as his own attorney, surviving some of the narrowest escapes in courtroom fiction.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
New York Times Book Review, February 8, 1981, review of Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, p. 31; September 4, 1983, review of The Rat Began to Gnaw the Rope, p. 19.