I read with great sadness of the author Sue Grafton’s recent passing. Thirty-five years ago, Grafton created the iconic character Kinsey Millhone, a quirky private investigator with a penchant for both junk food and jogging and a deep-rooted desire to remain unattached. Kinsey is the main character in the alphabet mystery series of twenty-five books (A-Y) and while I have to admit pausing at around “S” or “T”, Grafton managed to keep Kinsey’s character memorable until the end. The anticipated “Z” book is sadly not going to be written, according to Grafton’s daughter. I will, of course, add the books in the series that I have missed to my TBR pile immediately. I just assumed that Kinsey would be there for me when I needed her and now, I do.
I am generally not a big fan of literary series, but two other fictional characters that I have enjoyed over the years are Janet Evanovich’s wacky bounty hunter Stephanie Plum (twenty-eight books) and Michael Connelly’s crusty LAPD detective Harry Bosch (twenty books). I’m not sure exactly certain what it is about Kinsey, Stephanie and Harry that I love so much, but I have attempted to analyze what makes them stand out from countless other ‘me-too’ characters.
- They are each, in their own way, completely authentic. Their private lives, careers, interests and relationships are totally in keeping with who they are. Love ‘em or not, you can’t read a chapter of any of these books without recognizing, “that’s just so Harry” or reflecting, “Damn, Kinsey. Stop being so you!!” Not that they haven’t evolved over the years, because they certainly have, but they remain true to their core and we understand them, flaws and all.
- They are totally obsessed with their jobs. It is no wonder that they are usually single, despite a couple of marriages or significant relationships for each of them. Most of us wouldn’t want to be too closely involved, romantically or not, with Kinsey, Stephanie or Harry. They would stand you up, keep you waiting, let you down and shut down emotionally, but you would have no choice but to love them and put up with all the turmoil, even when they forget your birthday or how you take your coffee.
- They are each employed in the field of law enforcement. I don’t believe that this is a coincidence. Kinsey, Stephanie and Harry have lives that are exciting to read about, but are often filled with dangerous situations that cause them to go days without sleep, get shot at, kidnapped or have their cars blown up. “Seriously, Stephanie. You actually thought you could drive the same car two days in a row?”
- They each have a slew of ex-spouses and lovers (see #2 above) due to death, divorce or disillusionment but each has at least one relationship that is long-lasting and keeps them grounded. Kinsey has Harry, her octogenarian landlord, Stephanie has Grandma Mazur and Lulu, her ‘ho-turned assistant’ and Harry has his daughter Maddie. These relationships let us know that despite quirky, wacky or crusty exteriors, Kinsey, Stephanie and Harry are each, in their own way, good people who are lovable and deserving of happiness.
I am an author of four contemporary romances. The 1st and 3rd books feature Jackie Sullivan, a wise and witty woman searching for and holding on to her ‘happy ever after’ life. In my 2nd and 4th books, Jill Griffin navigates her way through marriage to a hard partying rock star before she meets the true love of her life. I adore both Jackie and Jill, but there is not the slightest chance in the world that I will ever write another novel featuring either of them. They are very much alive, at least in my mind, but I believe that I have written all there is to write about them. It is a testament to the superior skills of Grafton, Evanovich and Connelly that they have been able to create and maintain characters who have stood the test of time and kept us so well entertained. RIP Sue Grafton. You and Kinsey will be missed.
Who is your favorite character in a long-running series? Leave your comments below.