Sue Grafton mattered to me. So, in tribute, I'm reposting a Thursday Thirteen from 2008.
Kinsey Milhone is Sue Grafton’s creation, the heroine of the popular “Alphabet Mysteries.” So I realize Kinsey is fictional, even though she seems like a buddy. After all, we’ve gone from A Is for Alibi through T Is for Trespass together.
Earlier this year, I did a TT on Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta, the bigger-than-life, this-close-to-perfect doctor/lawyer/gourmand. While Kay is the kind of woman I hopelessly aspire to be, Kinsey is far, far more accessible. There’s nothing intimidating about my buddy Kinsey. Down-to-earth, no-nonsense, fabulously flawed and very funny, she’s as comfortable as a pair of old running shoes (her favorite footwear).
1. When she was 5 years old, she and her parents were in a car accident. Kinsey was the only survivor. While she grew up to be a successful and self-sufficient woman, Kinsey has intimacy and abandonment issues, and it’s not hard to see why.
2. She was raised by her Aunt Gin. A contented and single woman living in Santa Theresa, California, Aunt Gin did the best she could. But she never planned on having a family, and didn’t quite know what to do with a traumatized little girl. So while these two lived in the same house, we really don’t imagine them together very much.
3. Her career at Santa Theresa High seems to have been devoted to smoking pot, cussing, and doing only what was necessary to not flunk. After graduation, Kinsey joined her aunt at California Fidelity Insurance, working as a receptionist and hating it, until she was old enough to try her hand at police work.
4. It was joining the Santa Theresa Police Department that straightened our girl out. While she had big problems with the regimentation that went with being a cop – she left the force after just two years – she discovered she had a passion for investigating and protecting the good guys from the bad ones.
5. Kinsey endured two short, unsuccessful marriages. The first, to Mickey, occurred after she left the force, when her Aunt Gin died and she was emotionally adrift. Her second husband was a musician named Daniel. Since they each turn up in books, and so as not to be a spoiler, I shall say no more. Of her husbands, Kinsey has said, “I dumped the first and the second dumped me.”
6. She’s had a few lovers throughout the alphabet – Charlie, Jonah, Dietz (my favorite) and Cheyney. None of these relationships have lasted because we all know her great love is really …
7. Henry Pitts, her landlord and best friend. He’s in his 80s, but that doesn’t stop her from completely adoring him. She mentions his blue eyes often. He bakes for her, shares Happy Hour with her (he has Jack Daniels on ice, she has her wine), celebrates Christmas and birthdays with her.
8. Rosie runs Rosie’s Tavern, Kinsey’s favorite restaurant. Rosie has brightly dyed hair and wears print muumuus and annoys Kinsey no end. She is also a fabulous cook, and her tavern is Kinsey’s refuge after even the most dangerous “day at the office.” Rosie, Henry, and Henry's various siblings make up Kinsey's surrogate family.
9. Kinsey has some unconventional talents, which come in very handy in her chosen profession: lying, picking locks and snooping. She enjoys all three equally (which is to say she enjoys them all a great deal).
10. She’s not a fitness nut, but she understands that being in shape is as important to her job as a good set of picklocks. So she jogs 3 miles every day. Sometimes she enjoys it, oftentimes not.
11. She owns a single, all-purpose black dress, doesn’t wear makeup and has been known to hack at her curly hair with nail scissors.
12. She drinks lots of coffee and loves McDonald’s. Especially Q-Ps with cheese and Egg McMuffins. She has referred to fats and carbs as “nature’s antidepressants.”
13. Unlike other fictional crimefighters (like Scarpetta or Robert Parker's Spenser), Kinsey often has to resort to markedly unglamorous tasks to pay the rent. She’s served subpoenas, investigated car insurance claims and taken jobs with clients she hasn’t really cared for. Seeing her in workaday situations makes her seem more real to me.
I know that since she's already on "T," Sue Grafton will reach the end of the alphabet, and this series, soon. Too soon for my taste. I'll miss Kinsey: she who writes clues down on index cards and arranges and rearranges them, trying to solve the crime; she who cleans compulsively and never leaves home without a paperback in her purse; she who has a strict personal code and lives by it. I've enjoyed every moment I've spent with her.