Does Length Matter?
KAYE: I admire writers who can keep a series going, and going, and going. Sue Grafton is on U IS FOR UNDERTOW in her alphabet series. So that's, um, 21? If my counting is correct? And she's doing it well. Others who have kept series fresh through the years were Tony Hillerman, with both the Jim Chee and the Joe Leaphorn, then later the blend of the two (18 in all); Sara Paretsky, who is on lucky (for her) number 13, HARDBALL (which I'm listening to in my car), in her VI Warshawsky series after taking time out for her second stand-alone. M. C. Beaton, in the cozy camp, has put out an astounding 26 Hamish Macbeth novels and 20 Agatha Raisins.
K D, who can you think of that has successfully done long serieses? Serii? Lots of books with the same sleuth?
K D: Two lesser-known people who are writing now are Cleo Coyle and Sarah Andrews. Cleo Coyle has eight Coffee House Mysteries, about the owner of a New York coffee emporium. Sarah Andrews isn’t well known, but she wrote series of mysteries featuring geologist Em Hansen. The first book was TenSleep. I absolutely loved it, with the geologist protagonist teased by the good old boys on the drill rig, and lots of drilling lore. Not all the books in the series were equally successful.
The old writers, mostly, were indefatigable with their series. Agatha Christie got a lot of mileage out of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. Rex Stout. My goodness he was prolific. Does anybody actually OWN all the Nero Wolfe books? Can we count Rumpole of the Bailey? The books of short stories by John Mortimer usually had Rumpole solving a crime in every story.
KAYE: ME! I own all of Rex Stout (even a terrible early novel under a pen name). I still reread them and never tire of Nero and Archie. But, I must admit, I do sometimes get tired of a series after three or four books. The characters don't hold me if I've already read the same stuff about them several times. Unless--there's another compelling reason for me to read on. Setting or theme of the new book, for instance.
K D: Even the writers get bored, I think. Sherlock Holmes was sent over the falls in a death grip with Moriarty, right? I think the problem is whether they are writing the same book over and over, or expanding their worldview and craft in each book. I mean, writing is an art, and artists grow and develop or they become hacks (my opinion). I think it isn’t about the setting, it’s about the growth. Sometimes, the writer is just phoning it in.
KAYE: One writer I enjoyed reading, not exactly a series author, was Dick Francis. While his books were considered a standalones and each had a new protagonist, except for a few Sid Halleys and two Kit Fieldings, I swear all those protags were the same person. Almost always an orphan, a lone guy with no family, and they all had the same basic personality. The thing is, I like that guy, the one who kept reappearing in different books with different names and professions. So I read every single Dick Francis that ever came out and still own them all.
K D: I think Dick Francis kept growing. Another thing, he accepted suffering. If his protag got injured, his protag limped for a while, had crutches, worried about the fact he was still in pursuit of the bad guys but less able to pursue them. Francis absolutely never phoned one in.
I think the issue is beyond theme and setting, and something deeper about the author’s process. If you want the same story over again, you can read Miss Marple. If you want people to grow, Dick Francis and Cleo Coyle keep their characters growing.
Kaye, why do you like Nero Wolfe? The characters are completely stagnant. I simply can't stand those books.
KAYE: True confession time. I can't help it, I'm in love with Archie Goodwin. I never want him to change. And I envy Nero's lifestyle. I imagine that I live in his brownstone and tend orchids all morning (I love orchids), have a private chef, and have free rein to eat enormous amounts of food. (But maybe this is a subject for another blog post!)
BTW, I used this site for research for this entry--stopyourekillingme.com. If, as a reader, you're looking for the complete books of an author, or the order in which they were printed, have a look. You can also pull up mysteries by character's job descriptions, protagonist's names, and several other criteria.
Happy reading, whether you're just starting a new series, or continuing an old one!