Someplace to go …

“Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.”

Sue Grafton died a month or so ago, and it’s left me feeling oddly bereft. She’s best known for writing the funny, smart and very successful Kinsey Milhone mysteries. Some people refer to the books as the alphabet series, because she begins Kinsey’s adventures with A is for Alibi, which first appeared in 1982, and progresses through the alphabet. Now, sadly, it ends short of completion with Y is for Yesterday, published in 2017.

Of course, I don’t feel the same searing sorrow at Grafton’s passing that the death of a family member or a close friend would bring—I never met Sue Grafton, never even saw a live interview with her. And yet, I do feel a loss. I’ve experienced that same sensation at the passing of other favorite authors—Robert Parker, Ruth Rendell, Reginald Hill. I’ve finally realized that it isn’t actually the death of the author I mourn, it’s the end of their characters. Because they, not their authors, are the friends that I’ll miss.

I won’t ever know what happens to Kinsey Milhone. Does Henry continue to be her steady and sure father figure? Does she ever truly reconcile with her unexpected family? I won’t be able to see what Ruth Rendell’s wise and clever Inspector Wexford is doing in retirement. I can’t follow the further adventures of the irascible and not-fit-for-polite-society Superintendent Andy Dalziel and his more sophisticated but less intuitive underling Peter Pascoe. Nor will I learn how Pascoe’s precocious daughter Rosie grows up. In the case of Robert Parker, because the family has chosen someone to continue the series, I could check in on Spenser. But I won’t, because no matter how skilled the substitute writer, I’ve never found any that really capture the voice and spirit of the author they’re trying to emulate.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy stand-alone books—To Kill a Mockingbird, Possession, Pride and Prejudice, A Prayer for Owen Meany—are among the favorites I happily return to. But, I really commit to a mystery series. I like the sense they give of restoring order in a disjointed universe. I enjoy the intellectual pull of the puzzle and the satisfaction of seeing things resolved, for good or ill. But equally engaging to me are the worlds my favorite series authors create. And it’s always a pleasure to discover a new one. Louise Penny, who writes a mystery series set primarily in a small village in Canada, explores in lovely, lucid prose not only the investigation of a murder in each book but the ongoing interplay of characters and the ebb and flow of their lives. I look forward to going back to Three Pines the same way I look forward to catching up with old friends.

So, when a favorite author like Sue Grafton dies, I have to say goodbye not just to one person, but to an entire group of friends. I can rekindle memories and enjoy the pleasure of their company by rereading, but it’s a bittersweet experience. Like looking at photos or family videos when the people in them are gone.

A friend pointed out that when a writer doesn’t bring a series to completion, it allows us to imagine whatever adventures or endings we’d like for our favorite characters. Unlike in real life, the people in books don’t have to die. They can live on in our imaginations. We can choose to believe that things end happily for the characters we care about, and there’s no author to contradict us.

I suppose that’s true. Still, I’m going to miss Kinsey and the immersion in her world that Sue Grafton provided, as I miss Reg Wexford, and  Andy Dalziel, and many other characters whose stories ended too soon for me. But, there is one thing an avid reader can take comfort in—there are always new characters and new worlds to explore.

 

 

 

 

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12 Comments

  1. Dian Frayser

    Wow! She was my age! A big fan of her books and so was Lesa. She almost made it through the alphabet. You’re so right, you don’t just lose the author, but all of their characters. Glad Leah will be going strong for a long, long time! If you would just give up eating and sleeping you could give us even more books, even faster. Is that too much to ask? I think not! Great blog, as always.

  2. Julie

    Sarah and I would wait for the next letter adventure. I think I have the first half, and she’s got the last. It will be weird to not know. They were the in between books we read while waiting for yours.

    • susanhunter

      Ha! Julie, that’s pretty heady company to put me in. I’m honored to be wedged between both ends of Sue Grafton’s alphabet. 😉

  3. Barb

    Once again spot on!

  4. sue knarr

    speaking of old characters in a series I wonder about Nancy Drew/

    • susanhunter

      Your comment made me check it out, Sue. There are now 64 Nancy Drew books, and the first one, The Secret of the Old Clock is #15 on Amazon in the ebooks for children, mysteries category. So apparently, Nancy is doing well! 😉

  5. Ann Johnston

    Your thoughts remind me to write to more authors. I have treasured notes from Mr. Rogers and Maurice Sendak. But I guess it’d be emails or blogs now. Ehh, I’m too old school. Lolol,

    • susanhunter

      Ann, you have a note from Mr. Rogers?That is fantastic, for real!

      • Ann Johnston

        Yes, when Kevin was little we watched him all the time. So we’d write him when Kevin had a question or idea about one of his shows. I think I was in love with him. 😂😂😂

  6. Linda

    I have in the last year or so “discovered” some new authors who have become some of my favorite. You are one of them! I love the character “Leah.. I always look forward to when a new book comes out. Keep on writing, and we will keep on reading! I felt sad when Sue Grafton died, as well. She was another talented writer. Like you say, we readers can imagine endings for the books that never got written….I guess it is up to us readers to finish “Z” for Ms. Grafton, in our imagination.

    • susanhunter

      Thanks, Linda, I’m glad you found me! 😉 Kinsey is hard to let go. I can’t help thinking/wondering about favorite characters when their series end. Sort of like wondering how old friends I’ve lost touch with are doing …

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