I cut my teeth on a certain style of fiction. When I first started writing, I finished every bit of dialog with a tag (he said, she said, etc.) because Robert B. Parker generally did that. When my uncle read Spenser, he said he heard me talking.
There were a few other writers who fit in that first set of writers that influenced me. A guy name Ben Schutz from northern Virginia. William Pronzini. James Lee Burke. Jeremiah Healy (who I met a SleuthFest about ten years ago). And later Earl Emerson, Denis Lehane, Julie Compton, and Alafair Burke (James Lee’s daughter). There were others, but these were the genre I adopted.
It’s part of life to watch your idols succumb. Parker died in 2010. Schutz passed in 2008. Healy died in 2014. The others will over time.
But there was one other author I started reading just after Parker. Sue Grafton’s stories were always little. While even Parker tried for an ocassional big story (Catskill Eagle), and Lehane’s Gone Baby Gone has one of the greatest endings of any book in the genre and on and on, the thing that separates the Kinsey Millhone series was the fact that she, and everyone else in the stories, were people you might actually meet.
The stories were things that might actually happen. Her work was decidedly low-concept an that’s what made them work for me. Spenser was hopelessly in love with Susan and their sex was always magnificent. Hawk was a walking obsidian slab people always moved out of the way for, perfectly tough and eloquent.
Kinsey ate whatever she had in house. She ran three miles most days, except when she didn’t. She tried and sometimes failed, personally and professionally. Her romantic life was certainly less amazing than Spenser’s. And she didn’t get along with some of the characters who regularly showed up (Henry’s brother William, for instance).
Spenser shifts seemlessly through time. Kinsey Millhone is a child of the 80s, and now she always will be.
Sue Grafton died today, a victim of the celebrity curse of a late December death–some sizeable who’ll miss all the celebrity death lists for the year. But her passing affects me more than Tom Petty, Bill Paxton, or any of the other big names, because her work was personal and inspirational.
Grafton’s daughter has said there will be no follow-ons, no other writers picking up the torch. For Kinsey Millhone, the alphabet ends at Y.
And another idol passes from this life.