Recently I read a mystery translated from Swedish, by an author who’s become a bestseller here in the US. It was the fourth book in a series that featured the same main character, but I found it to be a slow read, and when the book is 500 pages long you do not want it to be a slow read. I realized the author had tied everything in the new book into plot lines from her previous books, and without reading the earlier books I was lost.
I’ve never had trouble picking up a series midway through. If I like it, I go back and read all the previous books. My first Sue Grafton book was “I Is For Innocent” and it captured me. I went back and read A through H, and have continued on through W. The same with P.D. James; “The Death of an Expert Witness” was my introduction to Adam Dalgliesh, who became a favorite character for me. I read Tim Rob Smith’s “Agent 6” a couple of years ago to review it for Suspense Magazine. It was his third book featuring Leo Demidov, and events in the earlier books did play a part in the story, yet I was completely enthralled with the new book. My introduction to Michael Connolly’s Harry Bosch was “The Last Coyote,” four books into the series, and a book that delved deeply into Harry’s backstory, but that was no problem. I read it, and then read every other book in the series. Occasionally I do start at the beginning; “Rules of Prey” was my first John Sandford book, and I went through all the Lucas Davenport series in order after that (and all of Sandford’s other books as well).
In the classic era of mysteries, of course, you could pick up one of Agatha Christie’s Poirot books and get caught up in the story in no time at all. The same is true with John D. MacDonald’s Travis Magee books. I don’t remember the first color I added to my palette, but before long I’d indulged in the full rainbow.
With the book in the first paragraph, I felt like I was starting Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy with “The Return of the King.” I won’t go back and read the other books in the series, partially because it wasn’t a pleasant reading experience, and partially because reading the earlier books now would be anticlimactic. It’s something I intend to watch out for in the books I write. Don’t antagonize the reader by making the story hard to follow without having read all the previous books in a series. Let them step into your world wherever and whenever they can, even if it’s halfway down the block. If you do your job well, they’ll choose to circle all the way around.