Been So Long Since I Last Saw You*

letting-a-series-goI’ll bet you know the feeling. You read about – or someone mentions – an author whose work you’ve always admired. Then it hits you: you haven’t caught up with that author’s work in a long time – perhaps too long. How does it happen that we stop reading one or another of our top authors?

I’m not talking here of authors who’ve put you off for one reason or another. We all have lists of authors like that. Rather, I mean authors you really like, but whose books you haven’t kept up with the way you wanted to do.

There are, of course, any number of reasons that might happen. And our reasons for not keeping up with a series can be as varied as we are. So, I can only speak for myself. That said, I do find it a really interesting topic, and I’d love your input on it.

Sometimes, people don’t keep up with, or finish, a series they really enjoy because there are just too many entries in it. For instance, Evan Hunter/Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series runs to more than 50 novels. It’s very difficult to keep up with a series that long. That takes quite a commitment. So, I have to confess, I’ve not read every entry in this series (although I would like to). And one of the things about this series is that it does depict changes in the characters’ lives as time goes by and as they evolve. For that reason, it would be especially good to follow the series straight through in its entirety. I’ve not, but perhaps someday.

There are authors who take a hiatus from a series – sometimes a long one – and then bring it back. That’s what Philip Kerr did with his Bernie Gunther series. Fans of this series will know that it begins with the Berlin Noir trilogy that takes place just before and during World War II. Gunther is a private detective, who’s trying to negotiate the very risky landscape that is Berlin at that time. After the first few novels, Kerr didn’t publish a Bernie Gunther novel for fifteen years. In that time, people move on to other things. Or, their tastes may change. That could very easily impact someone’s decision to keep up with a series. In fact, you could argue that it’s a real tribute to Kerr’s skill that he found a ready audience for his more recent Gunther novels.

In those sorts of cases, it’s understandable enough that someone might not keep up with a series, even an excellent one. What, to me, is more interesting is the case of the series where there’s no obvious reason to let it go, but we do.  Again, everyone is different about this, but for me, Martha Grimes’ Richard Jury series falls into that category. It’s a well-regarded series, with interesting characters and some wit. There are solid puzzles in it, too. I didn’t keep up with that series the way I wanted to, and it has nothing to do with its quality. Nor is it because my tastes have changed dramatically. Perhaps it’s got something to do with time; no-one has time to read everything that’s good. But this is one of those series that I’d like to keep up with better than I did.

So is the “Emma Lathen’ writing team’s John Putnam Thatcher series. Fans can tell you that it has as its context the banking and finance industry, with Thatcher as a vice president for the Sloan Guaranty Trust. The series is very well regarded, and with good reason. I know people who’ve read every one of the novels, too. I’ll confess I haven’t. And there’s no specific reason for that, either. I like the series, I like Thatcher’s character, and so on.  It’s just one of those series that simply hasn’t stayed in the forefront of my reading.

Neither has the work of Robert Barnard, who created several terrific crime-fictional characters. A few are recurring (such as PI Perry Trethowan). Others of his novels are standalones. In both cases, Barnard wrote some solid and well-crafted stories. I enjoyed those that I read very much. But…I didn’t keep up with them. It’s got nothing to do with the quality of the books, and I do recommend them.

Those are just a few examples from my own reading. Perhaps you have some of your own. And that raises a question (at least for me). If we don’t stop reading a series for quality reasons, why do we? Is it the ‘Oooh, shiny’ factor of new novels and new-to-us authors? It is the time factor? Or, perhaps, is it that ‘I will never catch up’ feeling when it occurs to you that you’re four or five books behind with an author?

I’d love to hear from you about this. Which enjoyable series have you let slip away? Do you plan to pick up where you left off?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Hollies’ Come on Back.


Filed under Ed McBain, Emma Lathen, Martha Grimes, Philip Kerr, Robert Barnard

29 responses to “Been So Long Since I Last Saw You*

  1. The other side of the coin is the series that has slipped in quality and that I SHOULD have given up but haven’t. That would apply to the Thomas Lynley series by Elizabeth George. The books started becoming bloated long before she decided to kill off a major character, but after that event the whole thing became a downer and the mysteries suffered. Yet, I’ve kept slogging through because I admired her for so long. I hear the latest one is actually more of a return to form, but it’s been on my Kindle for over a year and I need to steel myself to begin the 700+ page journey!

    • You make such a good point here, Brad. There are definitely authors (and George is one, but certainly not the only) who do let you down, but whose work you keep reading. Part of it is the loyalty you mention. Part may be the need for a sense of completion (e.g. ‘Well, I’ve read these, I might as well read this next one). There are no doubt lots of other reasons, too. But whatever the reason, you’re right. People do keep going in a series, even when they’re no longer enjoying the books.

  2. Tim

    I am so glad you mentioned Philip Kerr’s novels. I read one or two a number of years ago (but my memories of those books have disappeared within the holes and gaps of my aged Swiss-cheese brain). Now, just the other day, I discovered among my late father’s possessions some mind-boggling connections to WW2 in North Africa and elsewhere. This discovery has catapulted me into a burning desire to learn much more about that war. Gunther’s novels, so well steeped in actual history, might be wonderful avenues for me to explore. Yes! Thanks for the reminder, Margot!
    Postscript: More about my father and the WW2 discoveries in postings soon to appear at my blog:
    Stay tuned!

    • I’ll be very interested in what you have to share about your father and the war, Tim. A pivotal time in history, and those personal connections make it all the more real. And I do recommend Kerr’s work, whether or not one’s read it before. Everyone’s busy and doing other things, but some series do merit a re-read. I think this is one of them.

  3. I’ve got so many in this category. I think one of the reasons is that they are simply not all available, either at the bookshops or at the libraries (or I can’t afford to buy all of them and don’t have the space either). But that doesn’t mean that if I find them somewhere, I wouldn’t read them. Donna Leon falls into this category, or Cara Black. I always enjoy them when I read them, but I no longer make a special effort of seeking them out (also, I sometimes can’t remember from the back cover blurb if I’ve read it or not many years ago).

    • I know what you mean, Marina Sofia. There are some series like that for me, too. And you make such a good point about availability. That’s especially true, I think, for series that are written and published in other countries, or were published many years ago. Publishers such as Dean Street Press and Ramble House are making a most laudable effort to find and re-issue some of those older books. But it’s an uphill battle.

  4. I have so many that fall into this category – Jill McGown’s books Lloyd & Hill books for one, at the time I first read them, I could only read those in the library but they’ve been republished on kindle and I still have a few outstanding.

    • Oh, and that’s such a good series, too, Cleo. It’s a perfect example of a well-written, well regarded series that can just slip away, for no reason relating to its quality. I’m glad you mentioned it.

  5. Pingback: Been So Long Since I Last Saw You* | picardykatt's Blog

  6. This is so interesting, Margot. I didn’t keep up with Sue Grafton alphabet series – as you say, no particular reason – I’d enjoyed quite a number of them. And then I actually met her when she got the CWA Diamond Dagger and she was so lovely that I went back and read the ones I’d missed and have kept up with her ever since!
    I have read all the Emma Lathens and the ones written by the same authors under another name. When the body of work is already there, sometimes I like to read the lot.
    I did stop reading Elizabeth George for the reasons Brad gave.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Christine. And I’m very glad you got the chance to meet Sue Grafton. I’ve not had that pleasure, but I understand she really is a lovely person. Glad to hear that’s true. As to the Lathen series, I would like to read them all. It’s just one of those things I should do and simply haven’t. And actually, that’s a bit of what got me thinking about this in the first place. Those are some well-written stories, in my opinion.

  7. mudpuddle

    i was rabid about Innes’ Appleby series and still am; then i wonder why i didn’t keep up on Leon and Maigret… sometimes a person does things without knowing exactly why – part of the mystery of mysteries, i guess…

    • I suppose so, Mudpuddle. The Leon and Simenon series are both excellent, but there are so many other demands on our time, not to mention our reading time. And thanks for reminding me of the terrific Inspector Appleby series. I can see why you kept up with that one.

  8. Col

    I followed James Lee Burke’s Robicheaux books up until 2010 – 18 books, I’ve not bothered with the last two as the character just doesn’t seem credible for me anymore. I kind of fell off the wagon a bit with Connelly and Bosch, but gave him another chance after a couple of iffy books.
    There’s plenty of series I’ve started but not kept up with, mainly through lack of time or continually getting distracted by other books – Crais-Cole/Pike, Block-Scudder, Pronzini-Nameless. I’ll get back to them one day!

    • That’s the thing, Col. Series like Crais’, Block’s and Pronzini’s are really fine series. But there is the whole time thing. and there are all sorts of distractions, as you say. That’s not to mention that there are several entries in them, so keeping up with them is no mean feat. And I think most of us have authors we’ve let get away because we’ve become a little disenchanted with them. And, after all, there’s only so much time for reading…

  9. I’ve read every single book that Henning Mankell ever wrote about inspector Kurt Wallander. I think I picked up the first book (The dog’s of Riga) towards the end of the 1990’s.

    I’ve also read a dozen or so books by Lee Child and his hardboiled hero Jack Reacher. I think Mr Child has written nineteen or twenty books so far.
    Same thing goes with James Lee Burke. I’ve read a dozen or so of his books. Dave Robicheaux and his sidekick Clete Purcell tend to get into all kinds of unpleasant situations.

    Another author that has given me tremendous reading pleasure over the years is Stephen King. I’ve probably ploughed through thirty or forty books of his so far.

    I tend to get emotionally attached to the characters, and picking up a new book is almost like catching up with old friends.

    • I knew what you mean, Hervey. When it’s a well-loved series, a new entry really is like catching up with friends. I like Henning Mankell’s work very much, myself. So I can see how you would be so attached to it. Kurt Wallander is a memorable character, isn’t he? Interesting you’d mention both Child and Burke. Both have written long-running series, and I sometimes think it’s harder to keep up with series like that. And I’ve always admired Stephen King’s writing talent and the variety of books he’s written.

  10. Janet F

    Sometimes I think keeping up with a series gets difficult when the author is very prolific and when you have four or five authors like that it becomes a task just to keep up. So it’s a bit of a relief to read a short series such as the Susan Hill: Simon Serrailler series a total of eight books or P J Tracy (mother and daughter writing together) who have not published so often and are up to fifth book in the Monkeywrench series.
    I still keep up reasonably well with most of my favourites – even when the series becomes a little jaded or formulaic. I always hope the quality of earlier books will return and sometimes it does or the series has become an ‘easy’ read – something to pick up when you want the familiarity of an old friend. Nevertheless there will always come a time when it just seems very sad that a series goes on regardless of quality.
    As always, Margot, an interesting post.

    • Janet F

      N.B- correction : apologies P J Tracy are up to the 7th book in their series.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Janet. You have a well-taken point about series that go on for too long, or where the quality has dropped off. And you bring up a really interesting point about series that aren’t very long. As you say, it’s so very hard to keep up with authors who are prolific, no matter how much you like their work. So it can be very nice to have a shorter series. It makes me wonder if that isn’t part of the reason for which a lot of authors write trilogies. And you’ve given terrific examples of shorter series, for which thanks.

  11. Glad to know I’m not alone in this matter. I can think of two series that I began reading before I ever started blogging but haven’t continued reading. They are Julia Spencer Fleming’s Rev. Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series and Parnell Hall’s Puzzle Lady series. I enjoyed both very much and didn’t stop reading them because the writing turned bad. I guess I just got sidetracked with other authors and books that were coming out at the same time their new ones were. It was a case of oh I’ll get that one soon and catch up and I just haven’t. Now I’ve really got to catch up.

    • No, you’re not the only one, Mason. And that’s exactly the sort of situation I had in mind with this post. Both of those series are great, and it’s easy to see how someone would get drawn into them and want to keep reading. And the quality of them has remained high. It is, I suppose, a matter of getting sidetracked, having other things come up in life, and so on. I know that’s happened to me.

  12. Fascinating subject, Margot. I’m guilty of this myself. Hmmm…let’s see. I’ve missed several Karin Slaughter novels, in her Will Trent series as well as her County series. And I love her. I guess I wanted a change. Not really sure why I stopped. She releases one book a year, maybe two, so it’s not like she bombards the reader with too many, too fast. The series are long-standing, but no overwhelming long, if that makes sense. Gee, maybe I should make her my next read. Now you’ve got me wondering what happened next in the series’.

    It’s a scary thought when you think about it. We, as authors, could have a loyal audience and one day they could just stop reading our books for no apparent reason. Yikes.

    • It is a sobering thought, isn’t it, Sue? And yet, it’s liberating in a sense. There is much that an author can do to create high-quality books that readers want. But there are also things that are outside the author’s control. This is one of them. And your comments on Karin Slaughter’s work show how that works. No-one has time to read everything – even everything that’s really well-written. So there’s no way that a person could keep up with all of the excellent series out there. And if you add to that the occasional wish to try something a little different, it makes sense that we let even a well-loved author’s work slip by at times.

  13. Great topic, and oh I recognize that feeling. There are quite a few series that I am going to catch up with one day (or fill in the gaps). I love Catriona McPherson, but she is getting ahead of me with her Dandy series and her modern psychological standalones. I’m behind with Sue Grafton too – perhaps Chrissie’s comments above will inspire me to catch up. They’re both authors I really like, there is NO reason not to read!

    • That’s exactly what I mean, Moira! Talented writers, fine stories, the whole thing. Absolutely no reason not to read their work. And yet, we let them slip away. I really do wonder about that. I know it happens to me; it’s a relief to know I’m not the only one.

  14. tracybham

    I have this problem with a lot of authors, Margot. There are just too many (really good ones) to keep up with them all. The Pronzini Nameless series (which I just got back to) is a good example. In that case I know why I slowed down, and it has nothing to do with quality. Some changes in the series disturbed me, and I just now feel like getting back to it. Philip Kerr and Ed McBain are authors and series I am stalled on at the moment.

    • I know what you mean, Tracy. I’ve got authors like that, too. It might be a plot element, or it might be something else, but even in the case of a fine series, we don’t always keep up. And of course, it’s hard anyway with a series as long as the 87th Precinct series…

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