Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Series

I believe that in a series-and I am thinking as much of series like Ferrante's Neopolitan books as in crime fiction- that each book should basically function as a standalone. You should not have to read the second book to understand the first one. It's okay to do this on a TV show, but not in a book or even a movie. Now Book 2 can give you a greater understanding of the characters or extend the plot but it should not be necessary to read it to understand the story.

What do you think?

9 comments:

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Len Deighton always claimed this was true for the books in the his series on nine Bernard Samson books, but I never believed him! But they were sets of trilogies. I think it is a shame that nowadays the idea of a standalone books seems commercially foolish a lot of the time, irrespective of how right it might be in terms of narrative.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think the vast majority of mystery readers, older white woman, love the series, loves following their protagonist from book to book. Love remembering what happened earlier. As for me, I love series too but only ones that don't lend heavily on past or future stories.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

I find that these days most series do need to be read in order and there would definitely be spoilers for people who haven't read the earlier books, whereas for the most part you could have read any Agatha Christie in any order. In fact, when I started reading mysteries in large quantities in the early 1970's that is what I did: read any book as soon as I could find it. Occasionally I got burned, as when the first Van der Valk book I read by Nicolas Freeling was also the last one! And there are a couple of spoilers even in Christie. I read NEMESIS before A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY, even though that was the sequel two decades later.

Sergio is right about the Samson books. They were trilogies, and needed to be read as such.

Yes, some mysteries can be read as a standalone, but there is almost always something in a series you need to know from past books to get full enjoyment. For instance, Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch series. If you don't know the backstory about his daughter it isn't crucial to the story, but it is part of his life.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I read THE MURDER OF ROBER ACKROYD first and had no idea this was breaking a rule.

Anonymous said...

TV episodes are seen weekly (or, in the case of daytime soap operas, daily). The same with old radio shows and movie serials ("tune in tomorrow," "continued next week"). With books and feature-length movies, it may be months or years between "episodes." So it is better for each to function as a stand-alone.

Generally, you can understand The Under Dog or The Murder of Roger Ackroyd without having read The Mysterious Affair at Styles, and you can understand Donald Hamilton's The Betrayers if you missed The Devastators. Although, admittedly, the Matt Helm series makes more sense if read in order. And you might need to have read Spillane's I the Jury to fully appreciate Vengeance Is Mine.

When Isaac Asimov's Black Widowers stories were collected together in books, some were edited or re-written slightly, so that one story might have a reference or allusion to the one before. When they originally ran in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, they were stand-alones, iin case you missed the previous issue.

Elgin Bleecker said...

Patti - James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux novels all worked pretty well as standalones. Burke gave enough background to bring newcomers up to speed. Although it has been a while, I don’t recall spoilers of earlier books in his later ones.

pattinase (abbott) said...

A real art!

Richard Robinson said...

William Kent Krueger's Cork O'Connor series is one that needs tone read in order, as is Louise Penny's Three Pines. The Reacher books, however, seem to stand alone regardless of order.

Dana King said...

I key element may be whether the author evolves the protagonist or leaves him pretty much static. An evolving hero may require occasional looking back. A static hero does not.