Serial Mysteries Vs Stand Alones

There are so many mysteries, that finding the real gem is difficult, whether you are an avid mystery reader or not. Here are a few things to consider when trying to decide between a stand alone and a series. By picking authors that write a series, you never have to bid your favorite characters farewell. After all a good writer leaves you wanting more, and what better way to get more than through a mystery series.

Reading a series works well if you discover new authors early on. Writers like P.J. Tracy (actually a mother/daughter team) have just a few books, and it is easy to start at the beginning. By waiting for the second or third book in a series, however, you let the critics do your work for you. Steigercentrum rolsteiger kunststof  If a series is still selling well by the third book, then it may be worth the time to go back and start at the beginning. A true series addict wants to know everything there is to know about a compelling cast of characters. Read the reviews and decide for yourself.

Be wary when a friend recommends an author, who is already twenty books into a series. Where will you find the first one that is no longer in print? Do you want to invest that much time in just one author? I remember reading a few of the Ed McBain police procedurals when I was a youngster, and later deciding I just couldn’t bring myself to start over again from the beginning. Sorry Mr. McBain.

On the other hand, a stand alone may proclaim the talent of a writer much better than his or her series work. Case in point-Aaron Elkins’ great book Loot, which is far better than his forensic Gideon Oliver series, and makes me long for his earlier and more unique art curator series. Even when you become engaged with a series of characters, often one book in the series seems to stand above the rest. Robert Crais’s L.A. Requiem or John Dunning’s The Bookman’s Wake are for me two of the best mysteries out there, even if you like to avoid books in a series.

One advantage of a stand alone is avoiding the dreaded, yet obligatory descriptions and backgrounds worded almost exactly the same way in every book in a series. Don’t the authors know that we already know about their characters? We come to predict when Eve Dallas and Rourke will have sex or when Stephanie Plum will wreck a car. Granted that is why we buy the books, but must J.D. Robb and Janet Evanovich be so transparent?

Sometimes picking a stand alone to read will help you determine if you like a writer’s style and pacing. It is the best of both worlds. You can try the author without committing to or getting caught up in a series. The only danger is if you pick a lemon. I read a couple of stand alones by Robert Parker and was disappointed. Describing what the characters are wearing and lots of dialog may fill pages, but it does not fulfill. I should try the Spenser series to be fair. I am often surprised how attached I become to one series by an author and am thoroughly repulsed by another. Alexander McCall Smith with his series about the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is wonderful, yet I couldn’t read but a few pages in his English cozy series.

I’m always on the quest for new characters and great writing, whether in the form of a stand alone or a series. A series will allow the author to develop his or her characters more slowly and pique your interest accordingly. Often it takes a few books before the author develops a winning style, and you might be more likely to give an author a second chance in a series, but not necessarily in a stand alone. I’ve also enjoyed many stand alones written by authors, who are known for a series, but who insist on breaking loose and trying new characters and situations. I like just about everything that Jeffrey Deaver does, even though I first read his Lincoln Rhyme series.

My latest favorites are Barry Eisler’s assassin, John Rain, who lives in Japan. Like me, you might not find that kind of bad guy character of interest, but Eisler creates a sympathetic man in an unfamiliar land in a writing style that transcends his story. His second series does not bode as well. All the praise regarding Steig Larsson’s trilogy involving the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is well deserved. His pacing is akin to sitting on a race horse, with you in the saddle and the pages as your reins. You flip them and hang on for dear life. His characters are irresistible and Lisbeth Salander is as appealing as the equally scarred Kathy Mallory in Carol O’Connell’s New York police saga.

Just because you love a series doesn’t mean you will love all the books in it. Like some television programs, you can often pinpoint when a mystery series has jumped the shark. I think Michael Connelly goes hot and cold with Harry Bosch, as does Nevada Barr with her park ranger series. The phrase comes from Happy Days, when Fonzie literally jumps a shark with water skis. It means the series has reached a point of no return and has lost a lot of its audience. Of course, what do I know? With Happy Days, the series lasted seven more seasons.

Another advantage of reading a stand alone is that there is seldom any cliff hanging at the end of the book to tease you into the next one. Likewise, you enjoy the book for what it is-several hours of unbridled escapism. One of the dangers of latching onto a series is that when you least expect it, the author stops writing. Sometimes they die as with the aforementioned Larsson or Barbara Seranella (1956-2007) with her series about an ex-addict trying to go straight. Then there are the authors, who change their name, end a series or mysteriously disappear. Margaret Lawrence. did a beautifully historic, all too short series about a midwife circa the American Revolution and then vanished. Barbara Neely gave us an excellent look at being an African-American woman and then moved on. How could they, just when we all got hooked?

Often fans of a series will demand a comeback, and the characters might have been better left alone. Myron Bolivar has yet to come back as strong as before Harlan Coben’s success with his many stand alones. That shouldn’t discourage a reader, who can treat a two-to-three year hiatus from a series as starting over again with a stand alone. Just be careful not to judge the series based on the comeback. I eagerly await reading Sharyn McCrumb’s newest ballad series and Jonathon King’s return to south Florida.

Like many rough stones, a mystery series can be hiding a gem. There are so many great writers out there. I like Karin Slaughter, who continually surprises me, Kathy Reichs, who tries to educate me and Ridley Pearson, who seems to enjoy his own characters as much as I do. And just because you may be disappointed in a particular book, whether stand alone or series, give the author at least one more try. For me it is difficult to ever give up on an author. I still believe in the potential promise of each new book, and the writer’s ability to carve and polish the next facet of yet another jewel in his or her collection.

Copyright 2011 by Linda K. Murdock.

Linda K. Murdock is the author of Mystery Lover’s Puzzle Book, Crosswords with Clues from Your Favorite Mystery Series. She keeps her mind active by reading over 50 mystery books a year. Her puzzle book includes reviews of 29 award-winning writers, who do mystery series. A helpful chronological check-off list of all the titles in each series, along with a crossword puzzle for each of the series, are included. Her best-selling book on spices has sold over 14,000 copies.


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