A Series of Series

My buddy Lloyd left me something besides Copper River smoked salmon, Seattle coffee and great memories – he left me three new friends: Mary Russell, Armand Gamache and  Guido Brunetti. They’re all brilliant, tough, kind and they’ve introduced me to their families and friends, their colleagues and their cafes and tea tables. Thank you, Lloyd.

They’re all in law enforcement. Mary Russell is a headstrong young Englishwoman who’s assistant to a certain violin-playing deerstalking wearing detective. Armand Gamache is head of Homicide for the Surete de Quebec, and Guido Brunetti’s beat is the canals and mists of Venice. Many of you are ahead of me here because you’ve already enjoyed your way through the crime series of Laurie R. King, Louise Penny and Donna Leon respectively. But all of you who love detective fiction know the seduction of reading the first book of a series of crime novels and realizing with gratitude that you’ve only just begun.

Of course I love a sharp plot, a clear narrative, and a tidy ending – the Agatha Christie rules. But even with an author whose plotting is better than her writing, it’s Hercule’s employing of the little grey cells and his sidekick Hastings, his idiosyncrasies that make the books memorable.

And so it is with the bachelor flat at 22B Baker Street or Nero Wolfe’s brownstone. I can forget a Rex Stout plot in a couple of years, but Theodore and Fritz and Inspector Cramer are life long friends. I’ve been in love with Archie Goodwin since I was fourteen, and I even remember the nightclub he’d take the lovely Lily to – the Flamingo. And yes, I remember that it takes an hour to make scrambled eggs up to Nero’s standards.

The best counterexamples are Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason novels. The plotting ain’t bad, but Perry, Della, Hamilton and Paul are cardboard. Ditto Ellery Queen and The Saint. But Inspector Maigret? After all these years I can smell Madame Maigret’s pot-au-feu and remember that his assistant’s name was Lapointe.

Off the top my head: some of my other favorite series, and their protagonists:

Joan Hess’s two series: Arly Hanks as Chief of Police in Maggody, Arkansas — hilarious. I like her Claire Molloy  line – she’s a bookseller and amateur sleuth in Fayetteville.

Jonathan Gash’s Lovejoy series – also funny, and I’ve learned a lot about the antiques biz.

Tess Gerritsen’s freaky scary Maura Isles series.

My Chicago sistergirl V.I Warshawski.

Janet Evanovich’s numerical Stephanie Plum series.

I’m always longing to make new friends and “waste” whole days with a new series of thrillers. Suggestions?

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “A Series of Series

  1. Lloyd

    Two other wonderful series which take place in Italy:

    Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen series starts with “Rat King”, and each is set in a different city.

    Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano books all take place on Sicily, the first in the series is “The Shape of Water.”

  2. Kelly

    And I’ve just discovered Declan Hughes (author) and Ed Loy (PI). A Dublin boy comes home and I’m only on my first book…not the first in the series.

  3. James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux—From the moment he dived into that deep water to search for survivors on that plane—I’ve been as much a junkie as the zombie-shells he encounters on the streets of NOLA.

    And I’d love NOT to have ever read Holmes or Poirot, just for the joy of first acquaintance.

    And, I confess, I’ve read every one of D.M. Davidson’s Goldy Bear—the Colorado detective/chef. She DOES lose a lot of cred as a caterer, I think, when she slides the crab puffs in the oven, knows the guests will arrive in twelve minutes, then looks out the window and realizes she’s in the area of THE MURDER, and so wades off a half-mile down the creek to see if she can find any evidence missed by the police.

    Next on my own list are the Sister Fidelma books, by Peter Tremayne—on the rec of a never-steer-you-wrong friend.

    And who DOESN’T love Precious Ramotswe and her faithful assistant Grace Mukutsi of the #1?

    • Kouign Aman

      Mary Anna Evans’ books – I love her archeologist detective Faye.

      RachelD, I too love Dave Robicheaux, but only if I’m in a happy place. Too dark when the world isnt going well.
      That’s when Precious Ramotswe steps in.

  4. Oh Goody, Guys! Thanks for the tips. And how could I have left off traditionally-built Precious? Afrika!

  5. Kim Shook

    Oh, to have never read a Louise Penny book before, so that I could have the joy of meeting the Three Pines folks and the wonderful Gamache for the first time. I am a huge mystery fan – cozies, mostly. Most of the time I have to accept deficiencies of one kind or another. Either the story is great, but the writing subpar or the writing is good, but the characters unpleasant. With Penny’s books, I don’t have to settle at all. Interesting, compelling characters – some will break your heart. Truly fine writing and my idea of heaven – a small village filled with smart, funny people who are passionate about food, art and friendship. Sigh. One piece of advice – unlike some series, you should really read the Three Pines books in order. You get to know the characters more deeply in each book and they build on one another. Also, I don’t think that you will be as effected by the stories if you haven’t started with the first book.

  6. Kim:

    I’m treading strict chronological order with the Three Pines books and the other two series Lloyd introduced me to. I’ve got a library, and in a gap, Amazon.

    You see, I know where Three Pines is. Seriously. It’s the village of Knowlton, Quebec where my brother’s MIL lives. The Townships are gorgeous. And yeah, don’t we all want to live in Three Pines?

    Louise writes an elegant plot, Gamache is beyond the man of our dreams, and Clara is my friend. But Louise isn’t a Quebecoise as I am, and some of her French Canadian references make me grind my teeth because she just doesn’t know. But I’ll forgive her anything and will be hitting the library for her third book tomorrow!

  7. Kim Shook

    So I just googled Knowlton and am utterly charmed. After we recover (financially) from our England trip next year, we really want to go to Canada. We have family near the Bay of Fundy and I want to walk in Anne’s shoes and see Quebec. Thank you!

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