On one hand, if a writer hits one out of the park on their first at-bat, gets great reviews and word of mouth and otherwise has the feel of a sure thing, our job selling subsequent books isn't so hard.
But on the other hand, once a writer has a long backlist of titles in their series, it can be hard to start someone on what seems the daunting task of reading every book, in order before they can get to the latest one.
I tend to be a purist: series should be read in order; and the notable exception to this are the Jack Reacher novels by Lee Child. Reacher travels light, and each book has a different setting as well as a whole new cast of characters. It's a bit of brilliance on the part of Mr. Child, and I can't help but wonder if the concept wasn't influenced by this short-lived but memorable TV series:
Of course, it's entirely possible that I am the only person who remembers it. I had the world's biggest crush on Michael Parks when I was 11 (the year this show aired). I should thank my lucky stars every evening that by the time it came time to pick a life partner for myself that I'd gotten over the crush.
The truth of it is that most series books don't require that you read all of them; they often reference things in the past, but typically in a way that doesn't make you feel you've really missed anything. It's sort of like meeting a person at a cocktail party that you find quite interesting, even without knowing their life story.
The one series, however, that I insist be read in order is Susan Hill's Simon Serrailler mysteries. I insist upon it so stringently that if a customer comes in and picks up a later one I always ask if they've read the preceding ones. If the answer is no, then something like this happens:
If you haven't already discovered this series, you have plenty of time to get started right now with The Various Haunts of Men before The Soul of Discretion hits bookstore shelves in January.
For those who have heeded my advice, or that of their own amazing indie bookseller, here's what you need to know about this one.
Simon goes deep undercover in an operation designed to bring down the most reprehensible criminals to whom the town of Lafferton has ever played host. It means leaving his family and the woman with whom he has just begun to have a serious relationship in the dark. While Simon is away, a member of his own family becomes the focus of a criminal investigation, one that threatens to rock Lafferton to its roots.
Simon's sister, Cat, continues to find her way through the twin minefields of widowhood and life as a single parent, and faces a big decision about the direction her life will take.
Hill doesn't disappoint in any of these plot lines. She routinely puts her main characters in harm's way, and some of them end up the way you don't expect. Neither does she feel any need to sew up either the mystery or a relationship crossroads by the end a novel. Hill knocks down the rules for mysteries and for series novels in ways that set her far apart from others in the genre.
Far apart, and shoulders above.
The Soul of Discretion gets ***** from me.
Publication Date: January 2, 2015
Published by: The Overlook Press
Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc.