Next, Please

I have blogged in the past about why I like to read series books. If you like to read popular fiction and you have favorite authors, series books are often their profit-makers. Sure, most authors like the challenge and do occasional stand-alone titles. Take Harlan Coben, whose Myron Bolitar sports agent/lawyer series started his writing career.  Myron still gets to headline a new story every few years or so, between Coben’s complex standalone novels.  But even these stories share settings and subsidiary characters with each other and with the Bolitar books. 

There is a comfort in dropping in on the lives of characters you have come to know and love (or hate) over a sustained period of time.  Characters evolve.  They and their relationships grow and change.  Series cover all genres of popular fiction – action, suspense, cozy mysteries, science fiction, and romance, etc. With series books you look forward to their annual publication, carefully track reviews, place your reserve so you can get the book early, and then chat with friends to see if the book met your series expectations.  When you read series, you realize that some books are better written than others as the “plot” may not be as gripping, or funny or sad or compelling as others, but does it really matter when you are entertained just by the experience of reading?

Here are three recent titles from some of my favorite series:

Red MistPatricia Cornwell’s Red Mist, #19 in the Kay Scarpetta Series

Long before CSI became the rage of TV, Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta, forensic pathologist; her investigator, Pete Marino; tech- genius niece Lucy;  and Kay’s FBI profiler husband Benton began working murder cases together.

Stung by the murder of long-time assistant pathologist Jack Fielding in Port Mortuary, Kay jumps into an investigation in Savannah leaving Benton, Marino, and Lucy behind in Boston.  She’s off to find out about the killer by visiting the murderer’s mother at the Georgia Women’s Prison where she is doing time for murder, too. Kay soon discovers that Marino, who is supposedly on vacation, is also in town, helping former colleague, NYC prosecutor Jamie Berger, with her first independent case for the defense– trying to clear another woman at the prison who is on death row and scheduled for execution.  In just three short days Kay and Marino are surrounded by bodies and are called upon by the local coroner to assist with the investigation which ties these disparate cases – the only common denominator being the prison.

Critics complain about Cornwell – too much psychology and not enough forensics; she doesn’t pay attention to continuity and details; should she write in first person or third person; Kay’s lost her humanity – she’s so unkind and bitter to everyone; she should put the spotlight on the cases and not the characters . . . but to my mind that’s what makes it worth reading the series.  Kay has been through a lot since 1990 – change happens.

Down by the River by Robyn Carr  – #3 in the Grace Valley Trilogy (prequel to the Virgin River Series)

Sometimes when you read a series you have to go back to the very beginning.  Several years ago I started to read the Virgin River Series by Robyn Carr.  # 17, Hidden Summit, has just been published and it’s sitting on a shelf at home calling to me.  But the last book I read is from the connected Grace Valley series, which she first published in 2003.

 Strong storytelling carries Carr’s series.  Small towns are populated by unique, independent men and women – the lawmen and lawyers, the medical personnel, the homemakers and the babies, the randy teens, and the preachers, the cooks and florist, the ranchers and farmers, the campers and the pot growers.  Many of the stories focus on returning war veterans re-assimilating into society, all choosing the picturesque communities of northern California where around every mountain curve is a beautiful view and lives touched by joy, tragedy, danger, intrigue and a true sense of community – where everyone knows everyone else and they care about and take care of each other. 

Medical emergencies in Virgin River often result in trips to the nearby hospital in Grace Valley.  And that’s where the whole series started.  The Grace Valley Trilogy centers on town Doctor June Hudson – she has dedicated her life to her practice and her town.  She is pushing 40 and has given up hope of ever having a family of her own, until undercover DEA agent Jim Post begins a secret liaison with June that will forever change her life and fill it with new possibilities.  In the last of this series, Down by the River, June’s high school sweetheart returns to town with his delinquent sons. Add a flooding river and the whole town has to pull together, with June leading the way to save the day.

J. D. Robb’s New York to Dallas – # 33 of the In Death Series

Now we come to my favorite book of last year, New York to Dallas.  Back in 1995, romance / romantic suspense writer Nora Roberts wanted to try her hand at a different genre – police procedurals with a twist.  Her publisher suggested she write these under a pen name since they were such a departure from her previous stories.  When they first came out I admit that although I am a big Nora fan, I could not countenance myself reading stories set in the late 2050s New York after the urban wars, but after reading #1 Naked in Death, I was hooked!  This is a series where character detail, continuity of character, setting, intriguing plots with despicable villains, and the development of a loving relationship over time between the two main characters have sustained the stories.

The series focuses on New York Police and Security Department detective Eve Dallas, and her Irish husband Roarke, a powerful, tech-savvy, mega-billionaire entrepreneur who often assists with her complex homicide cases as a professional civilian consultant.  Both Roarke and Eve come from tormented childhoods.  Eve was an abused child who grew up in Dallas Texas foster homes and Roarke was a petty thief, making his way by cunning and wits on the streets of Dublin, Ireland.  How these two people from vastly different backgrounds find each other, love, trust, marry, and struggle with their personal demons plays out through the series. At the NYPSD, Eve’s loyal squad includes detective Delia Peabody, IT Captain Feeney, and criminal profiler Dr. Mira.

In New York to Dallas, Eve finds that she must track a serial pedophile who brutalizes young girls to her home town of Dallas.  Eve is a fish-out-of-water without her normal department support system. With only Roarke by her side, she confronts a case with a twist of fate that makes her horrid past and her present life collide.  The story is so simple, yet so complex and compelling, that the stunning ending is a new beginning for Eve and Roarke. Wow.

–Sheila

4 Comments

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4 responses to “Next, Please

  1. I’m not a voracious serial book reader, with one most excellent and notable exception: Inspector Montalbano (Il Commassario Montalbano) A Sicilian series by the inestimable Andrea Camilleri.

  2. I love series books, mostly because I love long books. If I am enjoying the read, I want it to go on and on.

    The failure of many series, though, is that the writer decides that his or her character is “just so” the way the reader likes it, and refuses to allow the character to grow. Books like that quickly become situation rather than character driven, and for me, at least, miss the mark.

    As to J.D.Robb… I could not agree more. I love the books. The way Roberts has grown each of the characters is wonderful. The depth of emotional content is remarkable for what some might consider mill books.

    I never miss a new book in the “In Death” series.

    Now, to ADD to the enjoyment of them, if you get a chance, find a copy of one of these book in audio form. They are read masterfully by voice actress Susan Erikson. If you have ever heard Jim Dale read a Harry Potter book, think of Susan Erikson in the same class of reader. She brings additional personality to all the characters, male and female. Highly recommended.

  3. You’ve got 2 of my favorite series on here! :-) (Cornwell & Robb/Roberts) :-) have you read Diana Gabaldon?

  4. I agree with all you said about the ‘extra’ satisfaction of book series. I’m currently experiencing it with Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s great to speculate with friends about the way it’s going to continue. I also love how series are able to scoop out a bigger universe to play in. That happens in books too, of course, but in series you’re able to gradually delve deeper into the fictional world and discover more and more about it. There’s something so satisfying about that.
    I think it’s why I’m enjoying the second Martin book more than the first: I know about the universe now, I’m emotionally invested in it and its people, and it’s more satisfying to find out more than it was to find out about it, period. If that makes sense at all!

    “…does it really matter when you are entertained just by the experience of reading?” – coincidentally, I just published a post almost entirely about ‘reasons’ for reading. (Here, if you don’t mind me linking!) In which admittedly the entertaining aspect of reading got the least attention.

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