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Tom Chaney: Grafton - Father and Daughter

Of Writers and their Books, Grafton: Father and Daughter is a review of Louisville, KY authors Sue Grafton and her father C.W. Grafton. It first appeared 23 September 2007
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: Tom Chaney: Shadows on the Wall

By Tom Chaney

Grafton: Father and Daughter

I have followed Sue Grafton down through most of her rather famous alphabet from "A" Is for Alibi to "S" and am waiting for more.

Her female detective Kinsey Milhone is delightful. Although she runs a lot to keep in shape, she has a profound addiction to a certain fast food weighing four ounces with cheese and to the Polish concoctions of her neighborhood bar. Her culinary proclivities redeem her penchant for exercise.

Grafton, born in Louisville in 1940, now divides her time between Kentucky and Santa Barbara, California. In her fiction Santa Barbara becomes Santa Teresa where Kinsey does her sleuthing. Once in a while Kinsey heads to Louisville as in "O" Is for Outlaw. But mostly she stays on the west coast.

Grafton provides good, fast paced pleasure. We know her familiar characters in their neighborhood and we know the design of Kinsey's new studio/garage apartment provided by her ancient landlord.

At the rate of one letter every couple of years, Grafton should get to "Z" Is for Zero when she is about 78 years old.

If you don't know her work, grab one and plunge in. Starting with "A" is not necessary. Kinsey will tell you all about herself every time.

Now, what I didn't know about Grafton until a couple of weeks ago is that she is not the first of her line to write mysteries.

One of our avid mystery reading customers came in all in a state to show me The Rat Began to Gnaw the Rope, a mystery by Sue's father C(ornelius) W(arren) Grafton. With a great show of reluctance and after extracting a strict promise for its return, my customer loaned me the little paperback.

The elder Grafton, the son of missionaries, was born in China in 1909. Like his daughter, he was educated at the University of Louisville where he studied journalism and the law.

I just finished reading Mr. Grafton's The Rat Began to Gnaw the Rope which won the Mary Roberts Rinehart award in 1943. This first of a projected three-novel series features a short and chubby detective named Gilmore Henry. You'll not catch Henry jogging in the early morning, although he might have found some golden arches had there been any such in Louisville in 1940.

In one of many whodunit cliches, Henry sets out to rescue a fair maiden in financial distress. The complicated plot involves so much stock manipulation that the final chapter is mostly given to unraveling all the left over details.

But it is fresh. There are echoes of Earle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason in the rapid plot movement and the intricate legal background although not in locale. Mr. Grafton chose Louisville and a rather convoluted Kentucky for his setting.

One critic has noted that "He goes through most of the tough-hero paces, however, including a tendency to wise-crack and to get hit over the head with painful frequency. But he suffers more from his wounds than the average hardboiled hero."

Father C W died just before daughter Sue began to publish the Kinsey Milhone series, although he did see the publication of her first non-series novels and the results of her writing for television.

His novels are hard to come by these days. But the mystery lover who happens on one will be in for a good evening's adventure. 'Tis a pity he laid his typewriter by in the 1940's never to develop Henry further.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2012-09-23 05:21:25
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