Authors of series use several strategies to keep their series interesting over time. One strategy some authors use is to have different protagonists within the same series. It can be a challenge to balance those different protagonists’ voices with the need for a consistent context for the series. Some authors, though, have done it quite successfully.
Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series makes use of several protagonists’ voices, and that makes sense, as the Garda Síochána’s Murder Squad is a team of people. The first novel, In The Woods, features Rob Ryan. That novel also includes Cassie Maddox, although she plays a less central role. But she takes the ‘starring’ role in the next novel, The Likeness. And, as different members join the squad and leave it, different characters are featured in the novels. And that’s realistic, as in real life, people do join units, transfer, and so on. Among other things, this strategy has allowed French to develop different characters, and provide different perspectives on the crimes that are investigated.
The central protagonist in Arnaldur Indriðason’s Reykjavík series is Inspector Erlendur. He works with a team that includes police detectives Sigurdur Óli and Elínborg. While Erlendur makes many of the decisions, he relies a great deal on his colleagues, and they know that. As the series goes on, they feature more strongly in the novels. In fact, in the ninth and tenth novels in the series, Erlendur doesn’t even appear. His colleagues do the investigation. This strategy allows readers to get to know those characters better, and it allows for story arcs and character development that might otherwise be more difficult. What’s more, it arguably adds interest to the series.
We see a similar thing in Håkan Nesser’s Inspector Van Veeteren series. At the beginning of the series (the first novel is Mind’s Eye), Van Veeteren is the leader of his investigation team. So, several novels feature him in the lead role. But he works with a team of other people, whose work he trusts. As the series goes on, Van Veeteren decides to retire from active police work, and he buys a bookshop. This means that the investigating now needs to be done by other people. And that’s what happens, for instance, in The Unlucky Lottery. In fact, that book’s original title is Münsters Fall (Münster’s Case). In the novel, Intendant Münster does the primary investigation when Valdemar Leverkuhn is murdered in his own bed, just after winning a lottery prize. Later, in The Weeping Girl, another colleague, Ewa Moreno, is the featured protagonist. The original title for that novel is Ewa Morenos Fall (Ewa Morenos’ Case). In it, eighteen-year-old Mikaela Lijphart goes missing. Moreno had met her once and hasn’t forgotten her. So, she gets involved in the case. And she finds that it’s connected to the disappearance of Mikaela’s father, two murders, and some very dark secrets from the past. It’s not that Van Veeteren completely disappears; the other detectives consult with him on a regular, if informal, basis. But the baton is passed, if I may put it like that.
S.J. Rozan has an interesting approach to featuring more than one sleuth as the main protagonist. Her series features two New York PIs. One is Chin Ling Wan-ju, who usually goes by Lydia Chin, the American version of her name. The other is Bill Smith. They’ve got very different backgrounds and are twenty years apart in age. As the series starts (with China Trade), Chin is twenty-seven. She’s from a traditional Chinese family; in fact, her mother would very much rather she give up investigating, meet a Chinese husband, and settle down like a ‘proper’ daughter. Still, she knows Chin will find her own way. For her part, Chin is just as American as she is Chinese. Yet, she respects several of the old traditions, and she works to maintain a solid bond with her mother. Smith is from a military family, so he doesn’t have deep roots. He has his own PI business, and teams up with Chin for some cases. Some of the novels in this series are written from Chin’s point of view, and some from Smith’s. This allows Rozan to explore both characters, and let readers see each from the other’s point of view. It also allows for different sorts of cases and clients.
Fans of Robert Crais’ work know that his main series features two sleuths: Los Angeles PIs Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. They have very different personal styles, communication styles, and outlooks. But they complement one another, and each respects the other’s skills. In the first novels, Elvis Cole is the main protagonist. The stories are told from his perspective, and we see Pike through his eyes. In several of the later novels, though, the stories are told from Pike’s point of view. Readers follow his movements, and Cole is less in the limelight. This strategy has allowed Crais to explore different sorts of cases, and to let his characters develop. Not everyone likes both sets of stories equally, but they have allowed Crais a lot of flexibility.
And that’s an important reason for using different protagonists in a series. It allows flexibility. What’s more, the author can develop characters, introduce a variety of cases, and keep a series engaging.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Traffic’s Hidden Treasure.