As I’ve mentioned more than once on this blog, one of the great things about crime fiction is its variety. Another great thing about the genre is that there are plenty of talented authors with well-written series and standalones. It’s always exciting to discover an author or the crime fiction of a particular country; in fact, it can be so enjoyable that some readers plunge in and go on a “reading jag” of that particular author’s work or that particular country’s crime fiction. Others go on “reading jags” of one or another sub-genre. That can have advantages, too. If you read an entire series, you get a real sense of the way the series develops, including characters, story arcs and the like. There’s no better way to learn about the crime fiction written in a particular country than to, well, read it. And the same is true for the various sub-genres. So there’s definitely something to be said for “reading jags.”
At the same time though, there’ s also a lot to be said for varying what one reads. “Reading jags” can tire one of an author, a country’s crime fiction or a sub-genre. And while you’re on your “reading jag,” there’s all kinds of other great crime fiction coming out that you might miss. And “reading jags” can make you lose your perspective on the genre and even on the author, country or sub-genre you’re focused on reading.
“Reading jags” can be very tempting. Some authors, for instance, end their novels with strong hints about the next part of a story arc, so readers eagerly reach for the next book in the series to find out what happens next. Martin Edwards’ Lake District featuring DCI Hannah Scarlett and Oxford historian Daniel Kind is like that. Edwards never leaves the reader in doubt as to whodunit or whydunit. We learn the important answers to each novel’s specific cases. But both of Edwards’ sleuths are facing other life issues and those are not resolved in just one book. Each book ends with enough left unanswered that the reader wants to find out what’s going to happen in the next novel.
Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy is like that too. In each novel, both separately and together, his sleuths, journalist Mikael Blomqvist and Lisbeth Salander, investigate a particular crime or set of crimes. We get answers to the questions about those crimes. And yet each book is connected to the others through story arcs that leave unanswered questions. There is a temptation to pick up the next book in the series because the end of the novels leaves enough open that the reader wants to know what how those larger questions will be settled.
Since the publication of that series, many, many readers have gone on a Scandinavian crime fiction “reading jag.” There’s a lot to love about crime fiction from that country. Check out Barbara Fister’s excellent blog Scandinavian Crime Fiction to see what I mean.
Of course, no two authors, even two authors of the same gender from the same country and writing in the same sub-genre, are exactly alike. But different countries have different cultures and that comes through in crime fiction. For instance, there is a distinctly Australian sense of humour that comes through in several novels and series from that country. It’s evident in Lindy Cameron’s Redback, which tells the story of a crack team of retrieval specialists whose main skill is getting people out of highly dangerous situations. When several incidents happen in different parts of the world, it becomes clear that a major force is co-ordinating terrorist group activity in different regions. Team Redback, led by Bryn Gideon, goes up against these terrorists at the same time as they try to uncover who’s ultimately behind the terrorist activity and what the ultimate goal is. It’s a thriller, but it’s not at all a stereotypical “cookie-cutter” thriller. And it’s got a nice dash of humour woven through it. So does Peter Temple’s Jack Irish series. That series features former attorney Irish, who sometimes does private investigation. The Jack Irish series is “hardboiled” to an extent. Certainly it isn’t light, and it features more than one “down and out” character. But woven through this series as well is the distinctive Australian sense of humour. If you want to argue that that humour keeps the series from being too bleak and noir, I won’t disagree. There are other examples of Australian stories and series that have that distinctive quality to them. It’s easy to see why readers who like it would find themselves going on an Aussie crime fiction “reading jag.”
Sometimes, readers go on “reading jags” because they got the chance to read one book from an author and after that, they can’t get enough of that author’s work. We all have different authors who’ve had that effect, so I won’t list every single author with a long backlist. But let’s just say that many, many people who read their first Michael Connelly novel can’t stop at just one. Harry Bosch, Mickey Haller and Jack McEvoy have won millions of fans, So has Andrea Camilleri’s Salvo Montalbano. There are plenty of other examples, too. I’ll bet you can think of more than I can. Sometimes there’s just the right combination of author, reader and reader’s mindset so that one book just isn’t enough.
Then of course, we’re sometimes introduced to a sub-genre and find it so appealing that we plunge into it. For example, you might read Megan Abbott’s Bury Me Deep, in which Marion Seeley’s physician husband Everett loses his medical license because of his cocaine habit. He travels to Mexico after first establishing Marion in an apartment in Phoenix. The idea is that she’ll stay in Phoenix and work until her husband’s return. Seeley arranges for his wife to work as a file clerk at the exclusive Werden Clinic and all goes well at first. Then, Marion falls in with two new friends Louise Mercer and her friend Ginny Hoyt. The friendship is benign enough at first, but soon Marion gets more and more drawn into her friends’ wild lifestyle which includes parties, drugs and plenty of male “friends.” And that’s when the trouble really begins. This novel could very easily draw a reader into the world of noir fiction, and there’s plenty to enjoy in that subgenre.
Want to know more about noir? I invite you to check out Glenn Harper’s excellent blog International Noir Fiction.
There are other reasons, too, for which readers might go on a “reading jag.” “Reading jags” ask the reader to trade off variety and keeping up with some favourite authors for a really deep sense of one author’s work, crime fiction from a particular country or region, or one sub-genre. Some readers would rather not make that trade; others do so.
What about you? Do you go on “reading jags?” If you do, what prompts you? How do you balance the benefits of variety with the benefits of depth of a lot of reading in one small area of crime fiction?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Counting Crows’ Goodnight L.A.