Mystery author Sue Grafton died in late December at age 77. The last of her alphabetical Kinsey Millhone novels, Y is for Yesterday, appeared this past year. Like other engaging mystery series, Grafton’s combines a fresh crime puzzle in each volume with an admirable, imperfect protagonist whose life progresses from book to book.
I probably read A is for Alibi soon after it came out in 1982. Grafton was 42 years old, her fictional private investigator 32, and the southern California setting contemporary. Reading B is for Burglar and its successors as they appeared, I gradually noticed Kinsey’s world falling out of sync with mine. At first jarred, then intrigued, I finally became entranced with how Grafton handles the passage of time.
You do the math. In twenty-five mysteries over thirty-five years of your life (if you’re old enough) or Grafton’s or mine, Kinsey Millhone ages from 32 to 39. Sleuthing her way from A to Y entirely within the 1980s, Kinsey has to find a pay phone to communicate. She still makes notes on 3”-by-5” index cards and consults reference books at the brick-and-mortar library. With the slowing of time, I’ve watched her world shift from the one I inhabited to the one I remember.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.