My recent reviews have had me considering the pros and cons of the crime mystery series. My most recent review, Anthem for Doomed Youth, was for the twentieth book in the series, and I felt that I was missing some of the background colour by not reading the eighteen books between this and the first one. In between, the lead character had married, had a child and developed a small band of friends. I felt that I would care a lot more about the non-mystery related parts of the story if I’d read the intervening books.
Obviously some series don’t have this sort of development. Off the top of my head, reading the Poirot books out of order might spoil the fact that Hastings acquires a wife at the end of one of the books, but that’s about it. Likewise for Marple, Fell and Merrivale. An earlier adventure might get a namecheck, but nothing more detailed than that. Indeed there is apparently such a lack of continuitiy between early and late Ellery Queen novels that some people have theorised that there are in fact two different detectives with that name!
Compare that to more recent series. I’m partway into Crown In Darkness, the second Hugh Corbett book from Paul Doherty and a fairly major event from the denouement of the first book, Satan in St Mary’s has already been detailed. The Peter Robinson book Strange Affair basically tells you who the murderer was in the previous book Playing With Fire – this is done in order to provide important character development for one of the characters, but I was glad to have read that book first. Nev Fountain makes a point in the introduction to DVD Extras Include: Murder that the book spoils the murderer of the first Mervyn Stone book, Geek Tragedy – indeed the murderer makes an appearance in the second book. One of Mark Billingham’s books, I forget which, is a direct sequel to the outstanding Scaredy Cat and almost all of his books set after The Burning Girl reference a critical element in the denouement of that book.
Not every modern series is like this. There are one or two elements in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels (a girlfriend spans two or three early books) but these can basically be safely read in any order. Even so, I find more and more that I’m making a point of reading any series of books in order, just in case that such spoilers exist. Also, you do feel that you’re getting the complete story. The previously mentioned Satan In St Mary’s provided a lot of backstory to Hugh Corbett that fleshed out the character much more than he was in the later Corpse Candle or Nightshade, by which time he is happily married without a mention of past tragedy.
I was wondering, am I in the minority with this? What do my fellow mystery buffs do? It took me a long time to track down Crown In Darkness before I could carry on the Hugh Corbett series, but as I knew I would be reading them all, it was important to me to get it. So do you make a point of reading in order? Do you read them in any combination? Or do you shy away from series crime all together?