Let’s Try Again*

trying-an-author-againI’m sure you’ve this sort of experience. You excitedly begin to read a novel by one of your very top-of-the-list authors, and you’re expecting to be drawn into the story. Unfortunately, just the opposite happens, and that book you’ve been eagerly looking forward to ends up in the DNF pile. Or, perhaps you finish the book, but only out of a sense of duty or loyalty to the author.

The fact is, no author is perfect all of the time, not even the best. And there’s the issue of personal taste. You may enjoy, say, a trilogy by an author, but be really disappointed in a standalone that the author has written. That’s especially the case if an author tries something new.

That disappointment can happen to anyone. The question becomes: what do you do when the author’s next book is released? Are you ready to forgive, or do you give up on that author’s work? Perhaps it depends on the situation.

Agatha Christie, for instance, wrote different kinds of books. Her Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple series are, with few exceptions, whodunits in the traditional style (with some whydunit in there, too). But she also wrote adventure/thrillers, too, such as The Man in the Brown Suit, They Came to Baghdad, and Passenger to Frankfurt. Plenty of people aren’t as impressed with her international-intrigue stories as they are with her whodunits. But she must have been forgiven, since And Then There Were None, which was by no means her first novel, is her best-selling effort. For those of you who’ve read Christie’s work, I’d be interested in whether you read more of it after being disappointed (if you were).

Many people were badly upset at the outcome of one of the plot threads of Elizabeth George’s With No One as Witness. In that novel, there’s a series of deaths of young boys. The police haven’t been able to make much headway on the case. Then there’s another death. This time there’s a difference: the other victims have been non-white, but this victim was white. Now the police are under a great deal of pressure to show that they’re not biased in their investigations. There’s a terrible tragedy in the novel that put a lot of readers off the series, at least for a time.

The same sort of thing happened with Jo Nesbø’s The Redbreast. Oslo police detective Harry Hole and his partner Ellen Gjelten have learned that a new kind of rifle is being smuggled into Norway. It’s the sort of weapon that’s most likely being used by terrorists, so it’s imperative to find out who has the guns and why. So one plot thread of the novel involves the search for the people who have this new gun, and the attempts to link the trafficking with a neo-Nazi group. But there’s a tragic event that also occurs in the novel, and plenty of people weren’t happy with that at all. Some readers decided, because of that occurrence, not to read any more about Harry Hole.

And it’s not just tragic events, either. Sometimes people part company with an author if something too improbable happens in a novel. For example, in Louise Penny’s The Nature of the Beast, a young boy discovers a very large disused gun hidden in the woods near the small Québec town of Three Pines. At first, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache isn’t ready to believe the boy, but the story turns out to be true. Then, in one plot line of the novel, the boy who discovered the gun is killed. An excellent point about this plot was raised by Bill Selnes, who blogs at Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan. How would the residents of a small town like Three Pines not know anything about a large gun having been built and hidden in a forest not very far from town? Even if not everyone knew the story behind the gun, there’d certainly be word of it passed around in one form or another. Does that sort of credibility stretch put you off reading the author again? Or are you willing to try that person’s next novel?

And then there are series such as Camilla Läckberg’s Erica Falck/Patrik Hedström novels, that many people argue change over time. The Ice Princess, which is the first novel in the series, has as its focus the murder of Alexandra “Alex” Wijkner, a former friend of Erica’s. The emphasis is on the investigation and on the history that led to the murder. As the series has evolved, there’s arguably been a shift in focus away from the actual crimes, and more towards the home life of Falck and Hedström. That sort of change can put off readers who prefer not to have a lot of emphasis on sleuths’ home lives and domestic situations.

There are many other things, too, that can get a reader quite upset about a book. If it’s an author whose work you love, you may come back again for another try. Or you may decide to give up. What do you usually do? Have your say and vote in the poll below. I’ll give it a few days, and we’ll talk about it in a week or so.


*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Isham Jones and Charles Newman. There are several recordings of it, including the one I like by the Drifters.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Camilla Läckberg, Elizabeth George, Jo Nesbø, Louise Penny

28 responses to “Let’s Try Again*

  1. How do you deal with a disappointment when you’d like to be a fair reviewr, in your opinion?

    • You ask a good question, Eileen. I think it can be very tricky to be fair when you’re disappointed. I don’t generally do reviews myself. However, I’ll answer you this way. I learn the most from reviews where the reviewer is both specific and honest (e.g. ‘I thought there was an excessive amount of violence,’ or ‘I couldn’t warm to the main character,’ or ‘I thought the story was too wordy.’) I think giving specific praise where it’s merited and criticism where it’s deserved allows other readers to make their own decisions about whether to read a book or not. And it’s a little more objective than just, ‘I hated the book.’ Being candid matters – a lot. But so, I think, does being clear.

  2. If it’s the first time I’ve read an author, then I’m not likely to return unless other readers assure me that the author’s worth sticking with. But if it’s an author I’ve enjoyed in the past, then I’m nearly always willing to give them another chance, unless they’ve done something to really upset me – racism, blatant misogyny etc. There’s at least one series I’ve been criticising for about the last three books, but I still can’t ever resist the next one! But there’s another series I loved – Lexie Conyngham’s very fine Murray of Letho series which I highly recommend – but she did something to the storyline in book 6 (not in any way offensive – just an unexpected turn) that I simply haven’t been able to get over, and book 7 has been languishing unread on my TBR for ages. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to get over it and read it…

    • That’s really interesting, FictionFan. I do think that the decision of whether to give an author another chance often depends in part on how well we know the author’s work and how much we generally like it. I think in those cases, it’s a bit like forgiving an old friend for one mistake. But it’s quite different when the author is someone new. Then, there’s not that relationship, so perhaps it’s harder to forgive. And, of course, the more egregious the problem, the more likely we are to call it quits. Funny, too, how being a fan of a series can keep us coming back even if the last two, or three, or… books have disappointed. And yet in other cases, one incident’s enough to end it all. I’ve had that happen to me, too, even with a couple of authors I used to read more frequently. Perhaps you will forgive Conyngham and get back to keeping up with Murray. I’ll be interested to see what you think of #7 if you do read it.

  3. R. T.

    Hey, no one is perfect. Even Shakespeare wrote a few stinkers. And don’t get me started on some of those Biblical writers. But, hey, I give everyone another chance but not too many.

    • It is heartening, isn’t it, Tim, that even Shakespeare didn’t always get it right. Just on that score alone, I can see why you’re willing to give an author another chance.

  4. Col

    Interesting topic, I think there’s a couple of authors I’ve maybe become jaded with over time rather than totally disappointed in a single book.

    • Thanks, Col. I know what you mean about getting jaded with an author. It’s not necessarily because of one incident in a book or one book. That’s happened to me, too.

  5. I try to give a second or even third chance if it’s an author I’ve enjoyed previously or a debut novel, which can have some flaws (but, like FictionFan, I will persevere with new to me authors only if everyone tells me that there really is something worth reading after all). Sometimes the pressure of deadlines or temporary lack of inspiration can mean a substandard book in a series – even Donna Leon has disappointed me on occasion. If it does head off in a direction I am less keen on, then I may give the rest a miss. I haven’t pursued Camilla Läckberg for a while now, for example. As for Jo Nesbo, I find he’s hit and miss for me. Some of his books I’ve really enjoyed, others have left me cold – I never quite know what I am getting, so it depends what mood I’m in (and what shape my TBR pile is in) if I decide to read him.

    • I know what you mean about hit-or-miss, Marina Sofia. I’ve read authors who have that effect on me, too. And it always makes me wonder if I’m being fair when I decide to skip a book. You have a point, too, about the pressure that can make for a substandard book. When I sense that about a book, I usually do give the author another chance. If it keeps happening, though, I part company with the author. For me, anyway, it depends on whether it seems to be a one- or two-book problem, or whether the author really seems to be giving up, if I can put it that way. I’m glad you mentioned debut authors, too. I agree that very often, they find their voices with the second or third novel.

  6. Margot: Thanks for mentioning my review. There must be some psychic connection. I did not happen to read your post until I posted tonight a post comparing Louise Penny’s new book with other books and mentioned the concerns with The Nature of the Beast you referred to in your post.

    • It’s my pleasure to mention your post, Bill. And I’m glad you posted more about Penny’s latest. It’s high on my wish list, and I’ll be interested in your further thoughts on it.

  7. kathy d

    This is a complex matter, a serious one for we mystery readers. I gave up on Agatha Christie at age 19 because of her negative portrayal of immigrants and Jewish characters. No second changes, but I will watch Poirot TV episodes with the brilliant David Suchet.
    I did give Salvo Montalbano a pass when two more recent books had much more brutality than usual, which put me and a friend off. But then I went back to the series. How could I not? Such a lovable scoundrel is that Sicilian cop.
    I stopped reading Karin Slaughter’s books because I found after two books that they lived up to her name and I couldn’t take the brutality. Nor could I take it in Tess Gerritson’s series with the two women protagonists. I had read some of her previous books and they were fine. But the one Rizzoli and Iles book was so brutal (and part of it in the mind of the psychopath) that I quit. But the TV series is fun.
    One humorous but bizarre thing happened with Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak series years ago. She killed off a favorite character, and she wrote on her website, readers were furious. One person burned the book and buried it in his backyard! I took quite awhile to get over the turn of events, but went back to the series for a few more books.
    I have dropped series because of them getting repetitive or boring. Or I just wanted to try new authors.
    But sometimes I”ll try a new author as Rosamund Lupton. I didn’t like Sisters, but I gave her another chance and read the very good The Quality of Silence.
    And I read Sarah Hilary’s first book, Someone Else’s Skin, a psychological suspense, very well-done and riveting, but off my brutality meter. I want to read the next book but it’s about violence against children. I don’t think I can read that.
    So it’s really on a case by case basis. There are authors I”ll always read, but others I will stop reading, and some I’ll give another chance.

    • Case-by-case might just be the way to do it, Kathy. You’re right that the decision to give up on a series isn’t always easy. That’s especially true if you’ve really loved the novels. But if the violence, or the credibility, or something else puts you off, then it’s time to say ‘good bye.’ As you say, there are other great books and authors out there. Thanks for sharing that great story about Dana Stabenow, too. That just goes to show how dedicated crime fiction readers are, and how seriously they take their books and characters. Oh, and I’m with you: who can really give up completely on Montalbano…

  8. If I’m disappointed in a book, I’ll give the author another chance. Who’s to say my mind wasn’t in the right place when I read the ‘bad’ book. I’ve been upset when a series takes a certain turn I wasn’t expecting but most of the time in the end that path turns out to make the series better.

    Thoughts in Progress
    MC Book Tours

    • I know what you mean, Mason, about reading a book at, perhaps, the wrong time. Sometimes it does take another book to really decide how one feels about an author. And sometimes I’ve gone back to an author later, only to wonder why I was so disappointed in the first place. I think some of this depends on what one’s mood is when one’s reading.

  9. What a great topic, and one that I think has relevance for all crime fiction fans. When I read a dud by an author I love, I often think ‘if this had been the first one I read, I would never have continued with this author, and think what I’d have missed’. So that sometimes inclines to be more generous about giving an author a second go.

    • I’ve done that, too, Moira. It’s sometimes wise to consider what we’d be giving up by not carrying on with a series. That can make us a little more open to trying again, and when that next novel’s a winner, we know we’ve made the right decision.

  10. I’ll give an author I’ve loved in the past at least one more chance; after all, anyone can have an ‘off day’ (or off book!). I’m usually more put off by overall style, weaknesses in plot and/or research, character motivations that don’t ring true etc, than I am by one particular event in a book’s narrative. But if I don’t like the second chance I usually give up, and if it’s an author I’ve never tried before I probably won’t try again. Sadly, life is just too short!

    • Life really is too short to keep trying for too long, isn’t it, Tess? And there are so many good books out there that we don’t get the chance to discover if we spend too much time on an author who’s disappointed us. Interesting point, too, about style, characters, etc., as opposed to one incident in a book. Those are different sorts of disappointments, I think.

  11. I can go either way with this. Sometimes, writers just want to branch out..try different genres. And that’s cool. Not everything is going to work well, so I tend to be open here.

    • I know what you mean, Lisa. Innovation doesn’t always end up successfully, but it’s worth trying. And I can see giving an author a bit of slack, so to speak, as s/he branches out.

  12. I agree with Fan Fiction. If it’s a new-to-me author and friends assure me the series gets better, then yes, I’ll give them another shot. But if I hear crickets from my peeps, no. I’ll probably never read another book by that author. This happened to me with Karin Slaughter. When I read her debut she had an annoying writing tic that drove me nuts. So much so it kept pulling me out of the story. I made mention of it when I updated my status on Goodreads, and friends there assured me she stopped doing it in later books. Thankfully I listened, because I loved each and every book in both of her series.

    • Thanks, Sue, for sharing your experience. Sometimes it is worth giving an author another chance, isn’t it? And I know what you mean about trusting friends’ comments about a series. I’ve hung in there with authors, too, on friends’ advice, and been glad.

  13. tracybham

    I agree with Col, most of the time if I give up on an author it is because several books in a row seem to be lower quality or just not my kind of thing. I did continue with the Elizabeth George series after the book you named, and I thought the next two books were very good. But her books just got too long to be enjoyable for me. I did not know people had that problem with Redbreast. It was the first Nesbo book I read and I loved it.

    • You know, Tracy, I agree that ELizabeth George’s books have gotten really long. I don’t know if her publisher/editor wanted it that way or not, but they have. I really do prefer the earlier ‘tighter’ ones. And as to The Redbreast, I thought it was an excellent novel, too. Yet, some people didn’t like that one plot point…

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