On this dreary, rainy Sunday morning (perfect for reading!), I want to talk about mystery series, and where you should start with them.
My book group met yesterday to discuss Anne Perry's Angels in the Gloom, which I didn't realize was the third book in a five-book series. I often read mystery series, which generally do not rely heavily on the reader's knowledge of previous characters or events, and I think I mentioned in my last full post that I was hoping everything would become clear in the end, as this novel seemed to require the reading of the previous two novels to be understood fully. In fact, as I think about it now, I wonder if this is less of a mystery series than a family saga revolving around the Reavley family, the parents and the adult children, and their involvement with the Peacemaker, during WWI. My members, those who finished reading it, were confused by the characters and events in the novel, which makes sense now that I realize the situation of this novel in the series. Well, they had other complaints as well, such as the heavy-handedness of the emotional elements, the foolishness of the murder and destruction of the prototype, and the unevenness of the writing. Having said that, some of my members who have read her earlier books highly recommend them, especially the "Thomas Pitt" series and the "William Monk" series, which I believe are set in Victorian England. I really enjoyed this book, although I, too, felt that the emotional elements, especially fear and sadness, were overwhelming at times. I enjoy books about spies, but I also find them confusing, as they often involve double agents and government secrets as well, but they are usually explained well enough by the end for this reader to get the gist of the story. I don't usually enjoy books set in WWII, and I almost never read anything set in WWI, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed this book. I will definitely read the first two in the series to find out why and how the Peacemaker is involved in the war, and eventually the last two novels to find out who he is. All this to say that I would not recommend starting with this book, as it relies too heavily on the reader's knowledge of previous events and characters.
What I found most interesting about Anne Perry, however, is her history. I found out a few years ago that Perry's real name is Juliet Hulme, who along with her friend Pauline Parker, at age 15, killed Parker's mother during a walk in the park in Christchurch, New Zealand, because they did not want to be separated (Hulme was to move to South Africa to live with her mother while her parents were seeking a divorce). I noted that, after a fairly negative discussion of the book thusfar, the mention of this information set the room buzzing. As one member put it, "This puts a whole new spin on the murder (in the book)". There is a film I saw a number of years ago about this murder called "Heavenly Creatures". I've placed it on hold at the library as I would like to watch it again. Some of my ladies knew about Perry's history, but most did not, and I found that they were suddenly interested in reading other books by her after I mentioned it, which is what I expected.
So back to mystery series... I'd like to talk about some other mystery series that I have read, and where to start reading them. I'll start with my favourite series, Peter Robinson's "Inspector Banks" series. I began reading this series about eight years ago, and my first book was In a Dry Season. This was published in 1999 and is maybe the eighth book in the series that now has about 21 books. At that time, there were maybe 12 books in the series, so it was not that old, but it was not an early book either. I had no problem understanding or appreciating the main plot, as it was self-contained; only the main characters, the police team, were carried forth from previous novels, and understanding their previous relationships was not significant to the story. I don't think I immediately went back to the beginning of the series, but read a few more of his titles before deciding to begin at the beginning. I'm glad I did read them all in order, as I got the full story of Banks and his wife, children, other characters that appear sporadically throughout the series, etc. But I believe that with this series, you can start anywhere and enjoy the book at hand. In fact, I saw Robinson read once a few years ago, and someone asked him whether readers should start with the first book in his series. He said no, that a writer usually improves over time so if there are several books available, it would be best to start with a later book, then go back to the first book. That is what I did, and I absolutely agree. Only in one instance should I caution you: if you are going to read Friend of the Devil, you should definitely read Aftermath first. So, read and enjoy Robinson!
Another series I have enjoyed is Elizabeth George's "Inspector Lynley" series. Like with Robinson's series, I have read books chosen for their availability more than for their place in the series, and have found that, once again, the main stories are self-contained. You may recall that I was on an Elizabeth George kick last summer, wanting to start at the beginning of the series, but was running into problems because the library did not have many of the early books. I found quite a few at used book stores around town, and have indeed started reading from the beginning. I found this useful because, although the stories could be appreciated in and of themselves, I was also interested in the lovestories involving Helen, Tommy, Simon and Deborah, and these full stories the reader can only get by starting with the first novel. So once again, you can feel confident starting anywhere, but you may eventually want to go back to the early novels and read from the beginning.
OK, I've had a few technical challenges this morning, so have been at this post longer than I'd anticipated. I wanted to write more, but I'm now all "posted" out so will close for this week.
Bye for now!