RARA-AVIS: Reading Series in Order?

From: Mark D. Nevins ( nevins_mark@yahoo.com)
Date: 21 Jun 2008

I was having a chat with Bookgasm Bruce off-List about reading series in order, and thought the theme might make for a discussion topic here.

I'm still a crime fiction neophyte compared to most of you here, but I have been accused of being overly slavish about my desire to read series "in order."

Bruce's note to me suggested that I may have been unclear in my last post here. The point I was trying to make is that the Bond (Fleming) and Parker (Stark) novels do follow each other, and so there's a real value to reading those series in order of publication. However, based on my experience the Shell Scott and Mike Shayne books more or less stand alone. (I'd love to be corrected on that if I'm wrong.)

The Bond series is of particular interest in this regard, and I'm glad to see that the newest edition puts numbers on the spines. While I have not yet gotten there in my re-read of the series, having just re-read THUNDERBALL, I am aware that there is a tight connection between THUNDERBALL, MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, and MAN WITH GOLDEN GUN. (Next up for me is the "palate cleanser" of SPY WHO LOVED ME, which is an example in one of my favorite themes, "unconventional genre novels," but that's a topic for another post.)

I assume we could add other series to the "stand-alone" list: Fair's Cool and Lam, Stout's Nero Wolfe, and MANY others including the Hardy Boys. I also assume that there's no harm in reading Himes' Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones out of order. I can't say about Moseley's Rawlins as I've only read the first one. I read about the first 6-7 of Parker's Spenser, and can't say if they really needed to be read in order--I suspect reading further in the series would answer that question, but I am feeling like I may not have much more energy for Spenser given how much other stuff there is out there for me to discover--Parker seems capable and comfortable, but not especially compelling.

It seems to me, about halfway through the series, that there's a slight advantage in reading Lansdale's Hap and Leonard series in order, but maybe not a great one. (A character central to the second novel is introduced in the first--or maybe that's third and second?) [By the way, was the latest in this series, CAPTAINS OUTRAGEOUS, really never released in MMPB?)

I have been told that about 2/3 of the way through the series JDM's Travis McGee novels start to build on each other, including significant character development, but I'm only as far as QUICK RED FOX in that series. Thus far, I don't see any real advantage to having read the books in order.

To make matters worse, I recently discovered Tim Dorsey (not much mentioned here?) through his Elmore-Leonard-on-Crystal-Meth FLORIDA ROADKILL. I have been advised that the "Serge" series, of which this one is the first, actually has a "chronological" order that is different from the "publication order," much like the (off topic) "Flashman" series by George MacDonald Fraser.

Anyway, I wondered if this question would be one for the RARA-AVIANS to weigh in on, assuming the group hasn't done so already: Which crime series do you think REALLY should be read in order, and which don't matter?

I have recently been thinking about doing a systematic re-read of Hammett and Chandler, whom I've not read in 20 years, so any advice on how to re-read those (I am assuming publication order) would be especially appreciated.

Best, Mark Nevins

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