Monday, January 14, 2008

Where do you start? The lost art of writing series.

Nowadays the bestseller lists are loaded with the latest book in a series, either the latest mystery featuring a recurring sleuth, or fantasy novels that seem to be number 48 in the saga. Nothing stands alone anymore.

Now, I have no problem with this in general, but what I think is often lacking nowadays is the writers' allowing you to jump on the bandwagon at any point without having to suffer. Think of your classic authors and their series, like Agatha Christie with Hercule Poirot, or Rex Stout with Nero Wolfe, or John D. MacDonald with Travis McGee. You could pick up any book featuring these characters, and the author never stranded you in the middle, but always greeted you as if you were visiting this fictional world for the first time, taking you by the hand and introducing you to what was going on, and making you feel comfortable. And more remarkably, if you were a repeat visitor, the pros did this introducing in such a way that old timers never felt they were suffering through a rerun.

In the latest Select Editions volume, you get to see a contemporary master of series at work. With brilliant and almost invisible strokes, Michael Connelly paints the world of his detective Harry Bosch in The Overlook in such a way that, if this is your first exposure to him, or your thirteenth, you know exactly what you need to know about him and feel right at home joining his adventures. It is truly a magic art to be able to appeal to new readers and old at the same time, at any point in a series. I wish more writers today could do it, because then I wouldn't feel so lost in some of their series, But then again, not all writers are Michael Connelly. But you knew that!


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