Why I’ll Stop Reading a Long-Running Mystery Series

NEWS flash: Ginny JC is the winner of Wendy Tyson’s audio book. Ginny, please check your email!

by Barb, traveling back to Key West after a lovely wedding in Vermont

As I explained on Maine Crime Writers on Thursday, as soon as I turn in my current book, it will be time to write a new proposal for books seven through nine of the Maine Clambake Mysteries. This got me thinking about the positive reasons why I stay with a long-running mystery series. I wrote my answers here.

In my post today, I’m looking at the opposite side of the question. What causes me to drift away from a series? I don’t mean read one book and decide,”This isn’t for me.” I mean to either consciously or unconsciously stop reading new books in a mystery series I’ve previously been invested in.

Here’s what I came up with.

(1) I don’t care what happens to anyone. There are a lot of discussions, most of them not fruitful in my opinion, about whether main characters have to be “likeable.” For me, the answer is no. I don’t have to like them, but a do have to care what happens to them, because the entire point of reading a book is to find out what happens to them. There may be some standalone thrillers with plots so compelling you’ll read them in spite of the cardboard characters, but that isn’t possible for a series.

While this might seem like a reason not to start reading a series in the first place, I have often started series with interesting characters only to have them turn into people I wouldn’t want to share a cab with, much less get stuck on a desert island with. Patricia Cornwall’s Kay Scarpetta series became this for me. I wasn’t put off by the blood and gore, or the marital infidelity per se, or even the crazy politics. But a main character making terrible life decisions, sitting in judgey-judgment on all the other characters, who are also making terrible life decisions… It was too much. I let it go.

(2) The series story doesn’t move forward. There’s a lot of talk about whether protagonists in crime series need a character arc. Whether they need to somehow be different at the end of a book than they are at the beginning. Whether they need to grow over a series. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher famously doesn’t.

I find I don’t care so much if the character changes, but I need the story to move forward. I need the character to choose the good guy or the bad boy, to make peace with her mother or decide she never will. I need the hints about that thing that happened in the past to be revealed if not resolved. I’m really patient. Milk it for as many books as you think you can, but I need it to happen.

Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series was this for me. I loved the humor and I loved the portrait of life in the Burg. But it all became a little rote–sassy dialog, car crash, fail to make choice between two men, crash funeral with grandma, car cash, car cash. She made a lot of money off of me. I took this series for a long ride, but eventually I gave up.

(3) Every single character from every single book moves forward with the series. I like the introduction of interesting new series characters, especially if they have a personal or professional connection to the main character. But I don’t need every character I’ve ever met, many of whom I can’t remember, to be involved in each new investigation.

I stopped reading Martha Grimes’ Richard Jury series for this reason. When there got to be dozens of characters, all introduced in the first chapter of the next new book, I gave up.

(4) There are too many books, too frequently. Okay, I know this is idiosyncratic to me and that the only viable business model for a lot of self-published series right now involves frequent releases. It may be because I read slowly, or I have reading I have to do for my writing, or I have so many favorite series, but if an author writes so much that I get way far behind, I’ll give up.

Readers, what makes you stop reading new books mystery series?

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Wicked Wednesday–Who Are Your Aspirationals?

Julie Hennrikus/Julianne Holmes interviews Elizabeth George at the New England Crime Bake

Julie Hennrikus/Julianne Holmes interviews Elizabeth George at the New England Crime Bake

The weekend before last we all heard Elizabeth George say you should read writers who are better than you are. That’s the best way to improve your craft.

So I’m wondering, Wickeds–who are your aspirationals? What authors do you read when you want to be inspired to be the best writer you can be?

Sherry: I usually read for entertainment, that said I love Julia Spencer-Fleming’s books and the conflict she set up with Clare and Russ. I have a story to share about our very own, Barbara Ross. Right before I was asked to write a proposal for the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series, I edited Barbara’s first book in the Maine Clambake series, Clammed Up. I loved it. Her characters are real people not caricatures, her plots are intricate, and the setting is fabulous. She works hard, researching, creating layers, thinking about theme — so much that you don’t see but it’s what makes her books so wonderful. I loved Gus in Barb’s books and created Angelo in mine. I’ve always wondered if I hadn’t just read Clammed Up if my proposal would have been as good. I’d be thrilled to be compared to Julia or Barb!

Liz: Totally agree with Sherry about Julia Spencer-Fleming and Barb. It’s a widely-known fact that I’m also completely obsessed with Dennis Lehane. His writing just pulls me in and doesn’t let go. Tana French is the same way – there’s a haunting quality about her settings and characters that keep them in your head long after the book is done. Also, R.J. Ellory, who often talks about the one thing he keeps in mind when writing: How he wants people to feel when they’re reading. I aspire to that–having a lasting effect on my readers.

Julie: I loved interviewing Elizabeth George. She is one of my aspirationals. Add me to the Julia Spencer-Fleming fan club as well. I am also a huge Jane Austen fan. What I learn from her is good story telling, wit, and not pandering to audiences. I have specific books that I aspire to–Gaudy Night, And Then There Were None, A Christmas Carol, The Eyre Affair.

Edith: Great topic! I’ve said ever since I read my first Julia Spencer-Fleming book, “If I dwell-nyt-best-3could write like her, I’d die happy.” I just wish she’d write a little faster – the wait between books is hard. I also think Deborah Crombie tells a great story – language, setting, plot, characters – all are rich and expertly woven.  I aspire to read even one Elizabeth George! Didn’t get to it before Crime Bake, but she’s still on my list.

Jessie: I really admire Martha Grimes. I enjoy all her work but I especially love the Emma Graham books. Her ability to render both mood and character astounds me. I also adore anything by Alice Hoffman. The way she portrays relationships between characters, especially women, is so rich and vivid. Both Fannie Flagg and Billie Letts write with such affection for their characters while somehow not pulling their punches. That’s a rare feat in my opinion. Annie Proulx’s writing is a wonderment. It is lush and spare and poetic and gritty all at the same time.

Readers: What about you? If you’re a writer, who do you “read up” to inspire your craft? Others, who do you look up to in your own field or hobby for inspiration?

Wicked Good Beach Reads

Since we love to rcabana beach chairead at least as much as we love to write, the Wickeds have put together a list of beach reads to be shared once a week for the rest of the summer. Here are this week’s recommendations:

 Julie: The Christie Curse by Victoria Abbott

Sherry: Elusive by Sara Rosett

 Liz: A Tine to Live a Tine to Die by Edith Maxwell

Jessie: Fadeaway Girl by Martha Grimes

Barb: The Cutting Season: A Novel by Attica Locke

 Edith: Grace Takes Off by Julie Hyzy

Any favorites you’d like to share?