Kinsey and Me

Sue Grafton is one my favorite writers. I also like the occasional book about books, which led  to Kinsey and Me. This is Sue Grafton’s discussion of her main character, Kinsey Milhone, combined with a bunch of short stories. Since I’m not a lover of the short story, the highlights of this book for me centered around Grafton talking about her relationship with her main character.

I love serialization in books. Love it. I’m 23 volumes into the life of Kinsey Milhone and I can’t wait until Grafton churns out the next one. And much like Grafton, I’m also in love with the American crime novel, especially if it includes a hard-boiled detective. Here is how she explains her attachment to the genre:

There was something seductive about the primal power of the hard-boiled narrative, something invigorating about it’s crude literary style. For all its tone of disdain, the flat monotone of the narrator allowed us to “throw” our own voices with all the skill of ventriloquists. I was Mike Hammer. I was Sam Spade, Shell Scott, Phillip Marlowe, and Lew Archer, strengthened and empowered by the writer’s rawboned prose. Little wonder, years later, in a desire to liberate myself from the debilitating process of writing for television, I turned to the hard-boiled private eye novel for deliverance. (loc 2323-2329)

I’ve heard her talk about writing for TV and she doesn’t have many good things to say about it, including that she’ll never, ever sell the writes to her books to TV. I think we’re all better off for that, no matter how tantalizing it is to think about who would play Kinsey in the show.

The genre has changed since Grafton began reading this stuff, and Grafton is certainly responsible in some part for this change. Here’s her view on the modern, hard-boiled detective:

The P.I. has been transformed from a projection of our vices to the mirror of our virtues.

In the current hard-boiled private eye fiction, there is less alcohol, fewer cigarettes, fewer weapons, greater emphasis on fitness, humor, subtlety, maturity, and emotional restraint.

I do not necessarily maintain that today’s hard-boiled hero/ine is cast of finer mettle, only that s/he is more diverse, more protean, a multifaceted arbiter of our desires in conflict. Because of this, the hard-boiled private eye novel is once more rising to the literary forefront, gaining renewed recognition. (loc 2341-2343)

That just makes me want to read more detective fiction. Does it do the same for you? If so, and you like a deep, nuanced characters who will be with your for thousands of pages – try Grafton. Part of why Grafton’s main character is so great is because Grafton knows her so well:

What’s stimulating about her presence in my life is that since she can know only what I know, I have to do a great deal of research and this allows me, in essence, to lead two lives—hers and mine. Because of her, I’ve taken a women’s self-defense class and a class in criminal law. I’ve also made the acquaintance of doctors, lawyers, P.I.’s, cops, coroners, and all manner of experts. I own both of her handguns and, in fact, I learned to shoot so that I’d know what it feels like.

She is a marvel for which I take only partial credit, though she probably claims all the credit for me. It amuses me that I invented someone who has gone on to support me. It amuses her, I’m sure, that she will live in this world long after I am gone. I trust that you will enjoy her companionship as I have. (loc 149-159)

I’ve invested hundreds and hundreds of hours reading her books and expect to continue doing so until Grafton stops. It’s one of the best investments I’ve made.