You Can Have Your Own Choice*

Many authors (too many for me to mention them all here) write one series, then move on to another. Or, they write more than one series at the same time. Each series is a little different, though, and sometimes, readers have a strong preference for one or another of an author’s series. I got to thinking about this when I read an interesting post from Cathy at Kittlingbooks.

The author featured in that post is Helene Tursten, who’s written the popular and well-regarded Detectrive Inspector Irene Huss series. She’s lately worked on a new series that feature Detective Inspector Embya Nyström. The two series have their setting in common; both are based in and around Göteborg/Gothenburg, and both feature female police detectives as main characters. Bu the series are different because the main characters have different personalities and different life circumstances. And since characters are so important to stories, it shouldn’t be surprising that readers have a preference for one series or the other. They’re drawn to one or the other main character.

Agatha Christie also featured several main characters in her series. There are, of course, her popular Hercle Poirot novels and stories. There are also Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, who feature in a collection of short stories and in a series of novels. Miss Jane Marple, too, ‘stars’ in a series of books and stories. These three series (and the sets of short stories) are all quite different in ways, because their protagonists are very different. They have different backgrounds, different ways of solving cases, and so on. Even though the characters live at the same time and in the same country, they don’t meet and their stories are different. It makes sense, then, that fans of Christie’s work would like Poirot best, or the Beresfords, or Miss Marple. Of the Christie fans I know, very few feel equally drawn to all of the protagonists.

Lawrence Block is perhaps most famous for his Matthew Scudder novels and stories. Scudder is a former police detective who’s now a private investigator, and sometimes the cases he’s involved in get quite gritty. They’re potent stories, though, and Block fans can’t get enough. Block’s also written another series – a lighter one – featuring a thief named Bernie Rhodenbarr. He’s a smart, personable man, whose profession isn’t exactly legal, but who can endear himself to people when it suits him. And those are only two of the main characters that Block has created. They both live and work in and around New York City. But they’re very different, and have, of course, quite different life experiences, so the stories featuring them are also different. And many fans of Block’s work have a preference for one or the other. That’s logical, since the characters are so different.

Elly Griffiths’ two series feature very different protagonists. One series features forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway. She lives and works in present-day North Norfolk, UK. The other series ‘stars’ Max Mephisto, a magician, and Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens. This series takes place beginning in the early 1950’s, mostly in and around Brighton, UK. The main characters of these series have little in common, so their series are different, too. In some ways, it’s clear that the same author wrote both series; every writer has a unique style. And Griffiths fans will tell you that both series are very well-written and absorbing. I know of several people for whom any Griffiths novel is an ‘auto-buy.’ Even so, there are fans who prefer one or the other series. And that may be at least in part because the main characters are different enough that readers are more drawn to one or the other(s).

You might also say the same for Timothy Hallinan. He’s had a few popular and respected series. One features American ex-pat writer Philip ‘Poke’ Rafferty, who now lives and works in Bangkok. Rafferty is good at finding people who don’t want to be found, and through his eyes, we learn a lot about life in modern Thailand. Another series takes place mostly in Los Angeles. The main character in that series is Junior Bender, a burglar who also takes on private investigation cases for people on the wrong side of the law. This series is a little lighter than the Poke Rafferty series, and Junior Bender is a different sort of protagonist. Hallinan has also written a series ‘starring’ Lost Angeles private detective Simeon Grist. The stories and the main characters don’t have a lot in common, although Hallinan’s signature is there, so to speak. So it’s natural that fans would have a preference for one or another.

Elizabeth Spann Craig has written a number of series. Three of them are her Myrtle Clover series, her Memphis Barbecue series, and her Southern Quilting mysteries. Her main characters are all women who are – er – no longer twenty. But each woman is different, and they live in different places. Each one has a unique history and set of living circumstances, so the stories vary. And fans vary in which series they like the best.

In all of these cases, you could argue that what makes fans prefer one or another series is the main character. Some fans are drawn to one; some are drawn to another. There are other factors, too, that impact reader preference, but the fact is, if a reader doesn’t warm to a main character the series won’t be as appealing.

There are plenty of other examples of authors who’ve written more than one series (right, fans of Reginald Hill?). Do you have a preference for one series or another? Why? If you’re a writer, do you write more than one series? Do you find that certain readers prefer one or the other?

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from James Taylor’s Country Road.


14 thoughts on “You Can Have Your Own Choice*

  1. “Of the Christie fans I know, very few feel equally drawn to all of the protagonists.” Agree, Margot. I love Poirot, feel sorry that she didn’t write more of Tommy and Tupepnce but have no real fondness for Miss Marple. Another author Erle Stanley Gardner also wrote a number of series. While I am fond of the Perry mason one, his DA series didn’t really work for me. Am currently giving his yet other series Lam and Cool another go:). I think it just boils down to how you relate to the protagonists.

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    1. I think you’re right, Neeru. It really does have a lot to do with how the reader feels about the protagonist. If there’s not a connection, then the reader isn’t likely to enjoy a series as much is when there is some kind of connection. You remind me, too, that it’s been a long time since I read a Gardner – either series. I ought to refresh myself.

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  2. I thought of Canadian writer Vicki Delany whose mind buzzes with creativity. I am aware of at least 5 seres she has written. There is Const. Molly Smith in rural B.C., Fiona MacGillvray a Saloon and Dance Hall owner in the Klondike, Lucy Richardson a librarian on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and Gemma Doyle co-owner of the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium on Cape Cod. I have not read her Christmas mystery series. I find it tiring thinking of how much reading it would take to read all her books.

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    1. I know exactly what you mean, Bill! She is so prolific! I do like the Molly Smith and the Fiona MacGillivray series. I haven’t red the Christmas mysteries, either, but the Lucy Richardson and Gemma Doyle series are appealing. I mean, what’s not to like about books! All in all, Delany does some fine work, and all of her protagonists are different enough that the series featureing them are a little different, to. And that takes skill.

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  3. I like all of the Christies but if I was only allowed to read one, it would be Miss Marple, I think – but don’t tell the cats! I like the way they tend to have different narrators or perspectives so you see Miss Marple through different eyes. I love the Joe Sixsmith books but definitely prefer Dalziel and Pascoe, because the team is so well developed over time. And I currently prefer the Stephens and Mephisto series to the Ruth Galloway series, partly because I got tired of poor Ruth as a character, but also because that series is written in my pet hate present tense whereas the other series is past tense. Haven’t read the other ones… yet.

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    1. I’m with you about the use of the present tense, FictionFan. A story has to be very, very good indeed for me not to object to its use. It just pulls me out of the story. So, on that score, I can see how you prefer Griffiths’ Stephens and Mephisto novels. And I’m glad you mentioned the Sixsmith stories. They’re not as well-known as the D&P stories, and they are very good, I think. You do make a good point, though about the development of characters over time. I think that adds to the appeal of a series for readers. If the characters grow and become more interesting, etc.. over time, they tend to get more loyalty. And I promise – my lips are sealed. Your feline overlords will not hear a word about your Christie preference from me!

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  4. Great subject, Margot.

    As a reader, I love JD Robb books, but that’s the only series I read by Nora Roberts. In this case, it’s genre as much as the characters.

    As a writer, I definitely have fans who prefer one series over the other. Some love the forensics, police procedures, and family aspect of the Grafton County series, where others love wise-cracking Shawnee and the cat-and-mouse aspect of the Mayhem series.

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    1. Thanks, Sue! The Robb/Roberts distinction is such a clear example of the way the same author can create very different protagonists and, therefore, stories. And you’re right that sometimes authors switch genres, too, and that adds to the distinction among series for readers. I know what you mean about reader preferences, too. I can see how some would prefer your Grafton County series, and some your Mayhem series. Add to that that Sage Quintano is a different person from Shawnee, with a distinct personality and life circumstances. I think that impacts reader preferences, too.

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  5. When you were listing various authors with multiple series characters, I was thinking how hard it is to keep up with any one series, never mind multiple series by the same author. It does feel overwhelming at times.

    I have read some books in Tursten’s Inspector Huss series and have wonder if I would like the newer series or not. Regarding Christie’s series, Miss Marple used to be my favorite, but recently I have been concentrating on the Hercule Poirot books.

    My favorite example (other than Christie) of an author with multiple series is Stuart Kaminsky. My favorite is his Inspector Rostnikov series set in Moscow, which I am close to completing. I have also read some in the Toby Peters series which is historical fiction (set in the 1940s?) and one in the Abe Lieberman police procedural series set in Chicago. There is another one set in Florida, the Lew Fonesca series. So I have a lot of reading to do.

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    1. Thank you, Tracy, for mentioning Stuart Kaminsky! He’s a terrific example of an author who has different protagonists, and, therefore, different sorts of series. I’m partial to the Toby Peters series (and you’re right – it’s set in the 1940s). But his other series are appealing, too. I don’t think any one person could keep up with them, though! I agree with you that it’s sometimes hard enough to keep up with one of an author’s series, let alone more than one, especially if the author is prolific. And as for Christie, I have to admit to a soft spot for Poirot, but I do like Miss Marple. And the Beresfords….

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  6. Our friend Christine Poulson did a wonderful series of novels about the academic Cassandra James – and now has a series featuring medical researcher Katie Flanagan. Both great sets of books with very different settings and heroines – but both are strong clever women. I love Katie and the fascinating science details of the new books – but I do do that annoying thing of asking Chrissie will she ever write another one about Cassandra. I’m sure authors get tired of hearing that!

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    1. Well, you can’t blame us for trying, Moira! I would love to see another Cassandra James novel, too! And you’re right that her Katie Flanagan novels are also excellent. The two women aren’t really alike – different backgrounds, different personalities, and so on. But they are both appealing protagonists.

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  7. Spoiled for choice with some authors, Lawrence Block in particular. I think Scudder shades it for me over Bernie, but I also like his Keller and Tanner series! Oh and his standalones….

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    1. I know what you mean, Col. Block is fantastic, and all of his main characters are interesting. I’m with you on Scudder but then there’s Keller… I like Bernie, too. And Tanner. As you say, spoiled for choice, and it is interesting the way Block is able to create completely different sorts of atmospheres in his stories, so as to go with the sort of characters he creates.

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