Thursday, March 04, 2010

Series fiction

There is a nice discussion of series fiction, with a particular emphasis on the Aubrey-Maturin books, over at AV Club. This led me to think about crime novels, which seem to only come in series. At least when authors find a good character, they tend to drive that character into the ground over a long series of books.

There are upsides to this. Peter Robinson has done a nice job developing his the universe of Inspector Banks and his fellow Yorkshire police. Having many characters aside from Banks, Robinson is also free to kill some off or introduce new ones. I think he is the exception though. In most cases, we watch a hard boiled detective grow ever tougher and more weary. Here I am thinking of Harry Bosch whose character is as worn thin as the increasingly short and brisk novels.

The Bosch example highlights the downsides. The author doesn't need to embellish the character as we have met him (it's nearly always a him) in many books before. Coupled with the need to make the book fast to appeal to the airplane crowd and the Hollywood agents, you end up with speedy books that leave no lasting impression.

That's fine, if that's what you want. Based on what authors write, I suspect the public wants , or at least the publishers think the public wants, series books. Series books rarely pack the emotional or critical punch of non-series books. The books of James Ellroy do, but that is more a group of linked novels than a series of books centered around a character. Dennis Lehane's series books are great, but the Given Day is far better. The truly great crime writers have broken free of series. Down that path lies only the career of James Patterson.

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