Mystery Series: Love ‘em or Not?
- March 25, 2022
- Sharon Ward
Many readers enjoy reading mystery novels that are part of a series. Some mystery series go on forever, like Robert B. Parker’s Spenser, which still continues long after the original author’s death. Others disappear after two or three entries, often leaving readers frustrated. Some continue so long even the author seems to be sick of them, and astute readers can even tell when the author has subcontracted the new entries to a ghostwriter.
Personally, I love reading mystery novels in a series, probably stemming back to my childhood when I devoured Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden and the like. As an adult, I’m hooked on several mystery and thriller series, including Michael Connolly’s Harry Bosch, Gregg Hurwitz’s’ Orphan X, Craig Johnson’s Longmire, and Lee Child’s Reacher, among many others.
I’m interested in the opinions of the Miss Demeanors and our readers. Do you enjoy reading mystery novels in a series, or do you prefer to read standalone mysteries? Do you have any favorites, and have you ever been disappointed when a series ended too soon?
Since I write a mystery series, I obviously love them, and the reason is the opportunity to bond with a character and watch him or her grow, learn, change, make mistakes, recover from their mistakes, and go on. It really is all about character for me.
With that said, every series must end, either when the author gets tired of it or, as in the case of P. D. James, when she becomes too old to plot or dies. At the risk of committing sacrilege, James’s final book, a take-off on Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, was (in my opinion) not up to par. One series that ended too soon for me was Caroline Graham’s Chief Inspector Barnaby books.
She wrote seven of them and then, according to what I’ve read, just lost interest. However, as we all know, TV picked up the franchise and produced an incredible 128 episodes to date with a new season on the way. The series I like to read are usually British police procedurals or traditional mysteries with depth. That’s what I try to write.
A few of my current favorites are, in random order: the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths; the Inspector Rutledge series by Charles Todd; the Chronicles of St. Mary’s series by Jodi Taylor, and anything by Anthony Horowitz.
Sharon: Oh, I forgot Jodi Taylor and Elly Griffiths! I love them both–great mystery series. Jodi Taylor is so funny! And Dr Ruth Galloway is just such a perfect every woman–except smarter.
I’ve been reading Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, which is unusual because it’s the same group of people but each story is told from the point of view of a different person in the group.
At first I thought I wouldn’t like it because the whole point of a series is to bond with one particular person, but now I find it intriguing because you see the people you like, or don’t like, through a different set of eyes.
As an author of a mystery series myself, I love the way writing it gives me an opportunity to go deeper and deeper into Maggie Dove’s character and back story. I also love Elly Griffiths, but unfortunately I started reading her Ruth Galloway series at book seven and I really want to go back and start at the beginning.
Sharon: Oh, definitely go back and start at the beginning. The character evolution is superbly done, not just for Ruth but for every character. Elly Griffiths is brilliant.
As are you. Maggie Dove is a terrific character, and she has great insight into her own faults and strengths.
I have a few shared favorites with you Sharon, including Michael Connelly and Lee Child. I’ll add Elisabeth George. I’ll also add Martha Grimes although I don’t believe she is actively writing anymore, a decision I have to respect, as she clearly didn’t farm out sequels.
I think she’s a good example of the challenges of a series for another reason – after a few decades her characters aren’t exactly frozen in time, but they also don’t age (or at least their back stories don’t). For example, her main detective protagonist, Richard Jury, was orphaned in the war . . . and yet he’s still middle aged. At the same time, he now uses a cell phone. As a long time follower of her books, I can easily suspend disbelief and have him with a foot in the past and one in the present.
I became a huge fan of Elly Griffiths after reading The Stranger Diaries, which won the Edgar the year it was published. Since then, I’ve become a fan of her series (she is prolific and juggles quite a few books, one year she published three, and all are wonderful). A new series I’ve enjoyed is Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club, he’s only written two and I’m ready for the next one!
Sharon: Elizabeth George is awesome. And I’m in awe of Elly Griffiths. Every book is better than the one before, and she started out with a bang.
As far as Martha Grimes–It’s hard to do a long running series without letting time-based anachronisms creep in. The only one I ever read that kept her character frozen in a particular time period without causing fluctuations in the space/time continuum was Sue Grafton. I loved her Kinsey Milhone books right up to the end.
I’m fanatical about some series. Like Susan, I’m a Tana French fan. I read and listen to her books and like the different character perspectives in each. Elizabeth George, Louise Penny, Robert Galbraith, Ellie Griffiths, Ann Cleeves, I could go on listing authors who write series I eagerly await.
Some series do grow old, often when it seems to me the writer has become tired with it. Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks series seemed to run out of gas. I noticed Banks’s taste in music switched from classical to hard rock and it felt like the author may have been trying to attract a different audience. I hope it worked because he lost me. I loved hearing what opera Banks was listening to.
I also enjoy standalone. I love a good mystery as long as it’s well- written and there is no gratuitous violence.
Why not both? I grew up reading mystery series, as the Rex Stout, Agatha Christie, and Carolyn Keene collections (to name a few) still taking up space in my mother’s bookshelves can attest.
But a series can go on for too long. I recall reading a book that was about the 18th or 20th in a series and it was obvious the author had run out of ideas. They appeared to be targeting an audience which was only tuning in for the series characters with no concern for the actual mystery/plot.
That’s not me. If I’m reading a mystery, I want a mystery, whether or not I’m familiar with the characters. (Same goes for other genres. Plot matters.) So, if I find a standalone with an intriguing plot, I’ll read it.
I actually prefer a well-written standalone to a series installment where it feels like the author isn’t even trying or takes it for granted that I’ll keep following the series solely because of the characters.
All good things must come to an end, even a beloved series. Agatha Christie knew it (Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case). Arthur Conan Doyle tried it (“The Final Problem”). Stephen King wrote of the difficulties of doing it (Misery, one of my favorite standalones).
Sharon: I agree, Alexia. I read both too. I love meeting new characters, but I love going back to familiar people and places.
But your point about the author of a series running out of ideas is well-taken. I used to be a devoted reader of at least three different mystery series, but now they just annoy me. The author has either completely lost interest and is just phoning it in, or they’ve sub-contracted to a ghost writer who quite possibly never got a grade higher than C- in composition. Wooden dialog. No plot, or major plot holes. Characters completely changing direction from the well-established personalities and behaviors of the past, with no explanation.
It makes me wonder if the original authors are even reading the crap they’re putting their names on. Or if even they can’t stomach the bad writing.
Write what you know right? Well, Nancy Drew hooked me and I’ve been addicted to reading mystery series since. So of course my NYPD Detective Chiara Corelli mysteries are a series.
Generally I prefer books with strong women protagonists but if the writing is good and the characters interesting I’ll read a series with male protagonists like Elizabeth George’s Lynley and Havers books and Michael Connelly’s Bosch books.
I also love historicals and both C.S. Harris‘s Sebastian St. Cyr and Charles Todd’s Inspector Ian Rutledge series have male protagonists. I’ve also enjoyed Elly Griffiths, Sue Grafton, Tess Gerritsen, Patricia Cornwall, Marcia Muller, Julia Spencer Fleming, Deborah Crombie, J.D. Robb and a host of other well-known authors. Some I continue to read, others I’ve stopped reading for a variety of reasons.
There are a number of series by less known authors that I continue to enjoy and would recommend. To name a few: JM Redmann’s long running PI Mickey Knight series set in New Orleans; Penny Mickelbury’s Mimi Patterson/Gianna Maglione mysteries set in Washington, DC; Cheryl Head’s Charlie Mack series set in Detroit; and Katherine V. Forrest’s Kate Delafield series set in Los Angeles.
The only series that ended too soon for me was Laurie R. King’s Kate Martinelli series. The first three books were great and after a long, long wait the fourth, and last, included Kate but she seemed incidental to me.
Sharon: Catherine, you always have the best book recommendations. Some of these are new to me, but they all just landed on my TBR pile.
Catherine: Oh, I hope you enjoy them. I’m in awe of authors who are able to keep their series alive and interesting for multiple books.
I read both. I love John LeCarre’s Smiley series and will probably reread them. I also love Mick Herron’s Slough House series. Also Richard Osman’s Thursday Night Murder Club series. It’s like visiting old friends.
But I enjoy stand alones too because the stories are bigger. And sometimes, the book needs to end without any sequels because the character arcs were so broad that I’m done with that character and have no desire to visit with them again.
Sharon: More good series suggestions! Thank you. Luckily I mostly read ebooks or my TBR would be toppling over.
Readers: How do you feel about mystery series vs standalone mysteries?
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