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SUE GRAFTON (b. 1940)

In the evolution of American detective fiction, the rise of the well-wrought, believable female private eye may be the most important trend of the past twenty years. There can be no doubt about Sue Grafton's contribution to this development as the creator of Kinsey Millhone, a self-confident, independent, smart divorcee in her thirties whose outlook on life, Grafton says, is patterned after her own. After all, Grafton admits to having turned to mystery writing as a means of getting her aggressions out on the page at a particularly difficult time in her life.

Millhone's clients-Californians who work for a living-and their problems are also realistic. In her novels, memorably titled after successive letters of the alphabet, Grafton's sleuth deals with issues that have directly affected the author's own life. For instance, in «D Is for Deadbeat» Grafton deals with alcoholism, a problem that she knew firsthand as the daughter of two alcoholics. Grafton says that her family was "classically dysfunctional," but it was also a household that revered the written word. Grafton's father was C. F. Grafton, a lawyer who wrote the classic courtroom novel Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.

It has been said that Grafton's work takes that of Ross Macdonald into another dimension. As did Macdonald, Grafton lives in Santa Barbara, California. And in homage to Macdonald, Grafton has Kinsey Millhone, like Lew Archer, reside in the fictional Santa Teresa.

Grafton notes that «The Parker Shotgun» grew out of reading that a long-defunct firearms company had made only two copies of a particular model, of which one had been lost. "I know nothing at all about guns, but here was a chance to make the murder weapon also the motive," Grafton says. The story displays another of the strengths that make her work notable: the minor characters have personalities of their own-something difficult to accomplish in short fiction. And while the reader is more likely to remember the grimness of this dysfunctional family than the detection involved, the doer of the fatal deed is nicely concealed until the end.


Lucky Penny | The Oxford Book of American Detective Stories | The Parker Shotgun