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.