Thursday, April 19, 2007

When authors spring a surprise in mid-series

A discussion at the Oz Mystery Readers group sparked thoughts of the ways crime writers shake things up mid-series. Peter Lovesey, whose novel The House Sitter is the Oz group's current subject, has brought Peter Diamond back into the Bath police force and killed off his wife. In He Who Fears the Wolf, Karin Fossum pulls her protagonist into the background and makes him part of an ensemble cast in which suspects and victims are far more prominent.

The late Michael Dibdin livened things up in the fifth of his Aurelio Zen books by basing the story on a Mozart opera. And then there's that gushing fountain of ideas, Donald Westlake, who has shared chapters with other authors, who has had the characters in his comic Dortmunder series plan a heist based on an imaginary novel in his decidedly un-comic Parker series, and who has used the same opening chapter in novels in two different series, with the action in each book then following a different character.

How have your favorite writers changed things up in mid-series? Did the changes work? And tell me about some of the stranger changes. Can you think of anything wilder than Dibdin's wonderful opera plot in Cosi Fan Tutti?

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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Anonymous Maxine said...

Have not read Dibdin, but Harry Bosch has quite a few ups and downs, with marriage, fatherhood etc.
There is one series where someone is very happily married and their wife dies half-way through, but my neurons will not dredge up the necessary cues.
As I mentioned in a Crimespace forum, what keeps me attracted to a series is development: if a character and plotline degenerate into formula, I tend to lose interest after a few books. So shake-ups are a good thing, in my view.

April 20, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder used to be a seriously off-the-wagon alcoholic, though in the books I've read, he's always finding Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to go to in odd places at all hours of the night. That's a pretty interesting twist, I think.

So far, though I've read just one of the Sejer novels, Karin Fossum wins my twist-of-the-year award for putting Sejer in the background in He Who Fears the Wolf.

April 20, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

The Oz Mystery readers discussion that I mentioned has readers coming up with detectives whose wives have died, in novels by Peter Lovesey, Peter
James, R.D Wingfield, John Lutz and others.

Lovesey's Peter Diamond might be the detective you were thinking off. I like his warm rapport with his wife so much, and the comfort he takes from her in hard times, that I am loath to read the novel in which she is killed off.

April 20, 2007  
Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

The one that springs to mind is Peter Robinson's Alan Banks. Banks begins happily married... as I understand it, he and Sandra divorce.

This was one case where I was starting the series when I heard that, and I'd been enjoying the change of pace, having a detective happily married. I don't have as much time to devote to my personal choices in reading as I'd like, because of reviewing and interviewing prep, so I haven't reached that point in Robinson's series yet... So I can't say if it works for me. I was sad to hear it, though.

In general, if I admire the author I can follow where they lead, as long as they play fair. Rebus has gone through his ups and downs with relationships. I'm usually happier after he's dumped, and I'm always certain the relationship won't last, so it's just a question of how long and what instigates the break-up.

I personally believe that characters have to grow and I have abandoned a series where I felt the same story was being told time and again. That was an Anne Perry series. In this respect I think it may be easier for authors dealing with hardboiled/noir protagonists, where they wrestle with demons, because they can falter, try to clean up, endure hardship and falter again. In a series where the characters are fundamentally good and very predictable in their behaviour you always know how they're going to act, which is how I felt after more than a dozen Pitt books from Perry.

I know on television they killed Pascoe's wife, but I much prefer them married in the books.

I think Karin Fossum's move would be a potentially hard sell. It's one thing if you start a different series or have a stand-alone where a protagonist from another series has a small role, but it sounds like this is a continuation of the existing series. I can see some fans being upset if that's the case.

April 22, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

That’s an exceedingly good point, that authors may find it easier to ring changes on hard-boiled and noir protagonists. If he chooses to do so, Lawrence Block could keep Matt Scudder walking an alcoholic edge forever.

I, too, enjoy those relatively rare series in which characters are (or were) happily married: Stuart Kaminsky’s Abe Lieberman books, the Peter Diamond novels, Helene Tursten’s Irene Hus series. I haven’t read all the Lieberman novels, but in the ones I know, Kaminsky is able to accommodate stress, strain and change in the protagonist’s marriage without breaking it up. He does this by displacing the crisis onto Lieberman’s adult daughter: The daughter is going through weird marital changes of her own and leaves her child to live with Lieberman and his wife. That way, Kaminsky can bring great change and new interest to Lieberman’s marriage without ending it.

I can only guess what Tursten will do. I’m going to hear her read this week. Perhaps I’ll ask her.

I was quite comfortable with the warm relationship between Peter Diamond and his wife, a warmth accentuated by the hard times the couple goes through after Diamond quits the Bath police force. Perhaps Peter Lovesey grew similarly comfortable and killed Diamond’s wife off because of it.

I come at Fossum in reverse. I noticed early on that He Who Fears the Wolf was an ensemble novel, with the lead detective in a supporting role, and only later learned that such was not the case in her other novels featuring the same detective. I hope I do not now find those books too conventional.

April 22, 2007  
Blogger Euro Crime said...

I think Ellie Pascoe is in the USA in the tv series, rather than dead.

Peter - you won't find TDWHTC too conventional :-).

April 23, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks for the reassurance, Karen. Fossum is good enough that at the absolute minimum, I'm sure I'll find her other books intriguing. I shall take your comment as something between a tease and a challenge, and I'll bump When the Devil Holds the Candle up a spot or two on my to-read list.

By the way, did you see my post about Ken Bruen's Calibre -- and Karin Fossum's surprising appearance in it?

April 23, 2007  
Blogger Euro Crime said...

Yes I did. I do enjoy the quotes Bruen uses in his chapter headings. At least they seem relevant/understandable, unlike a lot of others.

April 24, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

I should go back and look at some of the Bruens I read earlier and see if the chapter headings work as well as the ones in Calibre. I do recall that one of the chapters in Bust, by Bruen and Jason Starr, had a chapter heading taken from Starr himself, which seemed a bit much.

April 24, 2007  

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