Long before Sue Grafton became a best-selling mystery writer with her famous “Alphabet” series of Kinsey Milhone novels, her father was busy crafting crime novels in his spare time. Cornelius Warren Grafton (1909-1982) was a practicing lawyer in Louisville, Kentucky, who really longed to be a full-time writer. His first mystery novel, The Rat Began to Gnaw the Rope won the 1943 Mary Roberts Rienhart Award.
The hero of this novel was Gilmore Henry, a lawyer who gets entangled in complex situations with troublesome clients as he tries to keep his own life patched together. He is also the protagonist in Grafton’s second novel The Rope Began to Hang the Butcher.
A third novel in this series exists, partially written, with the title The Butcher Began to Kill the Ox. Unfortunately, Mr. Grafton passed away before finishing it. Sue Grafton has looked at completing this work for her father, but feels it would be a difficult task because he didn’t leave behind any notes on where he intended to go with the plot. She shared thoughts about her father in my interview with her for Bookthink in 2007.
C. W. Grafton was born and spent his childhood in China while his parents were working there as missionaries. He studied law and journalism in South Carolina, served in World War II as a military officer in the India-Burma Theater. He married Vivian Harnsberger, and together they had two daughters, Sue and Ann.
C. W. Grafton had four books published in his lifetime:
The Rat Began to Gnaw the Rope (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1943)
The Rope Began to Hang the Butcher (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1944)
My Name is Christopher Nagel (New York: Rinehart & Co., 1947)
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (New York: Rinehart & Co., 1947)
All four books are collectible and quite scarce in the first edition. Attractive hardcover reading copies of the first two mystery novels are obtainable at reasonable prices in Triangle (Blakiston) editions. (Copies occasionally available at Old Scrolls Book Shop).
C. W. Grafton’s mysteries are fast-moving, clever and fun — a joyous read for any mystery lover…and fun to compare with daughter Sue’s excellent Kinsey Millhone series.