Saturday, April 26, 2014

Done with the lie

I used to say I wasn't a series guy. I didn't really read series, didn't care for them, wouldn't get on board. Well, I can't honestly say that anymore now that I look at my bookshelf.

I still prefer stand-alones, in most cases. I like the added jeopardy. It's always been one of my biggest beefs with a series character – you know they're going to be fine. There's no stakes. My other trepidation is always the ongoing series that started way before I became aware of them. I'm just not going to devote so much of my reading time catching up on, say, Sue Grafton's series starting from A. Not gonna happen. She's a lovely woman and I'm sure she writes like a dream, but I'll never know.

But more and more series have been creeping into my life, mostly series I was able to get in on the ground floor of. Even a few older series have been taking up a lot of my reading time because they're so damn good.

Let's start with a few classics. I've read about half of Chandler, and the novels never did much for me. I love his short stories because you get all the hardboiled patter usually without the mystery/P.I. plot. I discovered a long time ago I'm not much for traditional whodunit mysteries. I like a story that propels forward and the traditional mystery is all about piecing together bits of the past, looking backward, adding up clues which leads to scenes of misdirection, dead ends and all too often the scenes/chapters of hashing out and reminding the reader what is known and not known. Dull, I think.

However, take the Parker novels of Richard Stark (Donald Westlake). These I can get behind. I've read more than a half dozen Parker novels now and I really liked each of them. As a character I like him, the plots are exciting and Westlake is a no nonsense writer. My type of guy. I plan to keep working my way through the Parker canon.

I think Chester Himes is one of the most underrated crime novelists. His Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed series are respected by those in the know, but relatively obscure by the general populace. These books are exciting and always surprising. Himes knew how to throw you off the scent while still entertaining the hell out of you. The journey to solving the central case is exciting as hell, even with Coffin Ed and Gravedigger off stage for much of the action, unusual for a mystery novel.

I've done 7 of the Lew Archer series and I think I'm about done with those. Too much dialogue, too much action happens off stage. People are always stumbling in on an already dead body. I like the action, not the mystery. This is why I don't care for Agatha Christie either. I like Ross MacDonald's voice as a writer, I just wish Archer weren't so passive a character.

Most of the series I anticipate new releases in these days are writers I've met and admire. Kelli Stanley has a new book in her Miranda Corbie series coming soon and I'm genuinely excited for it. Imagine that. Me, a series book excites me. I feel the same way about a new Owen Laukkanen entry in his Stevens and Windermere series, though those play less as a series and more like linked standalones. He seemed to fully embrace that he was writing a series with Kill Fee, putting his two main characters much more front and center than in the first two books.

I've praised Steve Hockensmith's Holmes On The Range series before, usually with the backhanded compliment that I shouldn't like these books so much. But, dammit, I do. There are five of those, and that seems about right, though if he writes a sixth, I'll read it.

Trilogies feel good to me. Duane Sweirczynski's Charlie Hardie series was a great rip-snorting trilogy. Frank Zafiro and Jim Wilsky's Ania trilogy is a great trio of modern crime novels. Charlie Huston's Hank Thompson books are a great three and out.

Let's not forget Charlie Huston's Joe Pitt books, too. Rebecca Cantrell's Hannah Vogel books are a great peek into a world I knew little about in pre- and post-war Berlin.

And then there's Hap and Leonard. Joe Lansdale is one of my favorite writers, and my slow doling out of the Hap and Leonard series (not done yet, but close) is a great treat every time one comes up in my TBR pile. Like two old friends, I'm glad to see them again. Perhaps more than any other, these two made me appreciate the value of a good series.

Max Allan Collins' Quarry series is another winner for me. Much like Parker, this flawed and morally questionable character is just plain fun to read about. 

And I've read all the Sailor and Lula books by Barry Gifford, though those are more like branches on a tree than a real continuing series. 

So you can see, I can't say I'm not a series guy any more. I'm sure I'm forgetting some and there are some still on deck I haven't invested enough time in to comment on properly. Then there are series still in their infancy. Johnny Shaw's sequel to Dove Season is out very soon and Plaster City is one of the books I'm most looking forward to this year. Christa Faust dangled in front of me that she is starting research for a new Angel Dare book and that was exciting news. 

But I'm not afraid of them anymore. I still won't be starting anything that is already 15 or 20 books in. That ship has sailed. But my reading has broadened because I'm no longer afraid to say I read series.

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