Some crime fiction authors keep their work fresh and their creativity flowing by writing more than one series, sometimes concurrently. Multiple series can be good for readers, too, as they get to meet more characters and enjoy the change of pace that multiple series can bring. Authors who create more than one series have a few options. One is to have the main characters of those series interact and even work together, sometimes even combining the series. Another is to have those series remain totally distinct.
For example, Agatha Christie created three well-known series. There are 33 Hercule Poirot novels, 12 Miss Marple novels and four novels featuring Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. The characters are contemporaries, too. And yet, Christie didn’t write a novel in which Poirot and Miss Marple work together on a case or a novel in which Miss Marple meets up with the Beresfords although she could easily have arranged such a thing in terms of plots. Some of Christie’s “regular,” but more minor characters, such as her mystery novelist sleuth Ariadne Oliver appear in novels outside a given series. But we don’t see those series really intersect. In fact, we don’t even see it when it would be natural. For instance, in The Mystery of the Blue Train, we meet Katherine Grey, a paid companion who inherits a fortune when her employer passes on. She decides to use some of her money to travel and ends up getting mixed up in a case of theft and murder while she’s on the famous Blue Train to Nice. Hercule Poirot is on the same train, and it’s he who investigates this case. But what’s interesting is that Katherine Grey lives in the village of St. Mary Mead which, as Christie fans know, is the home of Miss Marple. Miss Marple isn’t mentioned in The Mystery of the Blue Train at all. Of course, one reason for this could be timing. The Mystery of the Blue Train was published in 1928; Miss Marple didn’t make her debut until 1930’s The Murder at the Vicarage. Still it’s interesting that none of Christie’s major sleuths work together on cases.
Ann Cleeves’ Shetland Quartet series features police detective Jimmy Perez. Each of those novels takes place in one or another place on the Shetland Islands, Perez’ “home turf.” Cleeves also writes the Vera Stanhope series, which features DCI Stanhope, who lives and works in Yorkshire. Each of those series has a strong sense of location and atmosphere, so in that sense, the series are quite distinct. And yet, Perez and Stanhope are contemporaries. It’s quite possible for an author with Cleeves’ talent to create a believable scenario in which the two detectives could interact. Thus far she hasn’t chosen to do that. Her most recent Vera Stanhope novel, The Glass Room, has Stanhope investigating a murder that takes place at a writer’s retreat. When Jack Devanney, one of Stanhope’s hippie neighbours, asks her to find his missing girlfriend Joanna Tobin, Stanhope agrees and traces the woman to the writer’s retreat. When she gets there though, she walks almost directly into a murder scene. Professor Tony Ferdinand has been stabbed and Joanna is found holding the murder weapon. Stanhope doesn’t want to believe Joanna Tobin committed murder, so she investigates to find out what lies behind this seemingly all-too-straightforward case. In Blue Lightning, the last of the Shetland Quartet (although I’ve heard another Jimmy Perez novel is in the works), Perez brings his fiancée Fran Hunter to his home at Fair Isle to introduce her to his family. As though the awkwardness of “meeting the family” weren’t enough, the body of a local resident, Angela Moore, is found at the Fair Isle bird observatory. Perez begins the investigation only to be cut off from outside help when autumn storms roll in and make travel to and from the island impossible. It’ll be interesting to see whether Cleeves considers having her protagonists work together or prefers to keep the two working in separate series.
Sometimes authors don’t have their protagonists interact because their multiple series take place during different eras. That’s the case with Kerry Greenwood. Beginning with Cocaine Blues, her first series takes place during the late 1920’s and features Phryne Fisher, a jet-setter who tires of life in London and decides to return to her home in Melbourne. She soon gets swept up in life as a lady detective, and in this series readers experience liberal, racy and sometimes very dangerous 1920’s Melbourne. Greenwood’s other series begins with Earthly Delights and features Corinna Chapman, who lives and works in modern-day Melbourne. Chapman is a former accountant-turned baker who at first isn’t nearly as enthused at being a detective as Fisher is, but she brings her own skills to the task.
There are other reasons, too, for which authors’ multiple protagonists might not interact. For example, some authors publish different series through different publishers. Others have other reasons. There are authors though who have chosen to bring multiple protagonists together. One of those authors is Robert B. Parker. His Jesse Stone series begins with Night Passage, in which Stone moves from Los Angeles, where he’s drunk himself out of his job as an L.A.P.D. detective, to Paradise, Massachusetts. Stone is hired there as Chief of Police because the town’s leaders think they’ll have an easy time manipulating him and that he’ll “rubber stamp” whatever they do. To put it simply, they are proven wrong. Another of Parker’s series features Boston private investigator Sunny Randall. When we meet Randall in Family Honor, she is hired by wealthy Brock Patton to find his missing fifteen-year old daughter Millicent. When she finds that Millicent has turned to prostitution, Randall discovers that there’s more to this case than simply returning a runaway teen to her home. She also finds that Millicent is in more trouble than it seems on the surface. These two sleuths meet in Blue Screen, in which somewhat sleazy film-maker Buddy Bollen hires Randall to protect his girlfriend rising star Erin Flint while they’re filming Flint’s newest movie. When Erin’s sister Misty Taylor is killed, Randall works with Stone to find out who murdered Taylor and why. Thereafter Randall and Stone, who each have plenty of personal issues, develop a relationship that continues on and off throughout several novels.
And then there are Michael Connelly’s sleuths, half-brothers Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller. Bosch is a member of the L.A.P.D. (most of the time in the series). Haller is a defense attorney. The Bosch novels begin with The Black Echo in which he solves the murder of an old friend and fellow “tunnel rat” from the Vietnam War Billy Meadows. In the first Mickey Haller novel The Lincoln Lawyer, Haller takes the case of Los Angeles playboy and real-estate dealer Louis Roulet, who’s been arrested for rape and murder. The case looks clear-cut but as Haller looks into it more deeply it becomes clearer that Roulet may be unlikeable, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a murderer. These two sleuths meet and work together for the first time in The Brass Verdict. In that novel, Haller takes over some cases when a colleague Jerry Vincent is murdered. When one of them proves to be closely related to Vincent’s murder, he and Bosch work to find out who and what is behind both cases.
There are good reasons for an author to keep protagonists from different series separated, but often very good reasons to have them join forces, too. Do you have a preference? If you’re an author of multiple series, do you have your protagonists work together? Why (not)?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Beatles’ Come Together.