Surmounting Series Struggles

Weekly Geeks poses some series related questions this week. As I mainly read crime fiction series are a part of my reading life whether I like it or not though I’d love to find more standalone novels in my favourite genre (recommendations welcome).

What series do you read where you have had an issue with one of the books in the line-up?

I tend to call it quits once I reach a book (or two) that I don’t enjoy. There’s always another series.

However I have stuck it out with two long running series and both have, this year, rewarded my loyalty.

Sara Paretsky’s V I Warshawski novels and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone books (also known as the alphabet series) are both long running private detective series that I have been following from their respective beginnings. I haven’t missed a book in either series, despite having misgivings several times along the way. With the alphabet series my ‘issue’ was probably more one of familiarity leading to contempt as the books have tended towards a little repetitiveness over time while with Paretsky’s novels it was the increasingly overt politics that was driving me away. The novel Blacklist was one long diatribe against the evils of the Bush administration and the Patriot Act and which apart from being annoyingly US-centric made for a not very entertaining book. As I have said before it doesn’t matter if I agree or disagree with the politics, I really don’t want to be lectured at.

Happily though both series have recently issued new installments that are terrific reads. Sue Grafton’s U is for Undertow is something of a departure of format which refreshed the series for me and Paretsky’s Hardball incorporates the politics into the storytelling as it should always have been.

Do you cut the author loose after one miss, or do you have a limit of failed books in a series before you toss in the towel?

My answer to this question depends quite a bit on how long I’ve been reading the series and how badly the series fails me. With the two series mentioned above I kept going because I’d invested a lot of time with the characters and re-visiting them takes me back to various times in my life when I read earlier books so I used them to feed a largely dormant need for nostalgia along with my reading habit.

Another long running series that I’ve been following since the beginning is Elizabeth George’s Lynley and Havers novels. However I’ve felt increasingly let down by the last four novels in the series. I’ve moved away gradually though from buying each installment on release day to waiting for the paperback version to be on sale somewhere to, in the case of Careless in Red, not forking out a penny and borrowing it from the library. As I found it pretty dreadful I think three second chances is enough and I’m now done with this series and won’t be reading the latest one which was released last month.

I like to think I’m not so fickle that I’ll give up on someone after one bad book so most of the series that I’ve abandoned (for example Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta novels, the Kathy Reichs books, Karin Slaughter’s Grant County series and James Patterson’s Alex Cross novels) have had at least one second chances before I consigned them to my personal scrap heap.

My exception to this rule would be if I’ve only read one book in a series and not liked it. In such cases it would take a fairly powerful recommendation for me to pick up another book in the series.

What’s your suggestion for that book that you struggle with in a series?

Don’t read it.


If you really want to read the book that comes after it seek out some spoiler-containing reviews of the book you’ve abandoned to get the gist of the main plot points and character developments and move on to the new title.

You do not owe anybody anything when it comes to your leisure time.

Anything else you’d like to say about series? (I added this question myself as I geared up for a mini rant)


I would like to issue a plea to series authors not to assume I am going to have read every word you’ve ever written.  I know that is your ideal but sometimes reality falls short of our lofty expectations and if I pick up book 1+n in your series I should not be totally and utterly bamboozled by references to things that have happened in prior books. Either provide a bit of repetition between your books or don’t mention it at all.

There is nothing more guaranteed to get me to abandon an author forever than vague references to prior events that need to be understood to make sense of current events.

This practice has been known to lead to the sticking of pins in the eyes of author-shaped dolls.

You’ve been warned.

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3 Responses to Surmounting Series Struggles

  1. Bernadette – I agree with you completely and 100% about series where the author assumes readers are familiar with all of the books in a series. That is extremely annoying, and little makes me stop reading faster. So please tell me where you get your author dolls; it sounds as though you have a productive way of dealing with that… ; ).

    As far as how to handle weak books in a series goes, I think you’re right that there are ways to find out the main things that happen to the “regular” characters without feeling one has to read the entire book. After all, there is no law requiring that one read every book by an author. I’ve also been known to take such books from the library, skim them, and then return them. That way, I learn the main events without having to really read the whole thing.


  2. Maxine says:

    I think I have consigned the same authors to the scrap heap as you, Bernadette! I have always enjoyed Sue Grafton though I agree some are not as good as others. I agree about Sara Paretsky.
    I really like it when one reads a series which suddenly gets better.This has just happened to me with Mari Jungstedt and Brian McGilloway. In both cases I was a bit worried by their previous books (3rd in each case) but have thoroughly enjoyed both authors’ fourth (The Killer’s Art and The Rising, respectively).
    I found the Rebus series rather uneven, actually. I think it is a bit over-rated myself. One series I liked and is (apparently) very different from the TV series is the Frost series by the now sadly deceased R. D. Wingfield.
    Some series just stay exactly the same and I give them up out of boredom, eg the “Death” series by J D Robb. They aren’t even bad, just utterly formulaic. (The ones I have given up on that you mention have been on a downward spiral.)
    Well, I could probably go on but had better stop before I get carried away.


  3. I really enjoyed reading your answers and I agree with you on alot of points.

    I’ve moved away gradually though from buying each installment on release day to waiting for the paperback version to be on sale somewhere

    I am at a point like that now with alot of my series – I have gone as far as to wait in the library queue to get the next book in a series sometimes..

    As for your additional question..

    I would imagine marketing plays more of a factor in that, than readers preference..

    Some authors make a healthy profit from their backlist – can you imagine if they give little summaries here and there in all of the 1+n book in a series…

    Another thing is that unfortunately readers following said series – jsut want to get on with it. It can get annoying repeating the same things in every book…

    Us readers are a fickle lot – we can’t be pleased..



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