RARA-AVIS: Re: Reading Series in Order?

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 22 Jun 2008


Re your comment below:

"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.)"

I'd say you were right about Shell Scott, but that's the only series about which I'd say that's unequivocally true all through the series.

The Mike Shayne series, at least in the very beginning, is one that should be read in order. In the first half-dozen or so books, we see Shayne meet a beautiful young woman, fall deeply in love with her, marry her, become widowed when she dies in childbirth, move away from Miami to get away from the memories, resettle in New Orleans, meet a new girl, and, eventually move back to Miami with his new romantic interest who becomes his secretary, but whom he never marries.

At that point, your assessment might be a little more true. The series, after years of developing in many different directions, settles into a firm groove and stays there. There are relatively few references to past events and less continuity from book to book. This is especially true of the later books in the series, which were ghost-written (or at least, ghost-collaborated) by many different writers other than Halliday.

There's a value, I think to reading most series in order. It's been suggested that the Nero Wolfe and Continental Op series are, essentially, stand-alones from story to story, but I'm not sure I agree.

In the Wolfe series, we see historical events impinging on the stories. Hence, the series starts as Prohibition is being repealed, then moves through the Depression, World War II (during which time Archie gets a military commission), the Cold War, the Civil Rights movement, and, finally, Watergate. We learn about Wolfe's past bit by bit, and events in past books affect events in later ones. In the early '50's, there is a "Holmes/Moriarty" trilogy, pitting Wolfe and Archie against a master criminal known as Arnold Zeck, paralleling the similar trilogy involving Bond and Blofeld, that should definitely be read in order.

Even in the earliest Op stories, past events affect later stories. Early on, for example, we meet a rookie Continental agent named Bob Teal, whom the Op is bringing along and taking a fatherly interest in. When, in a story called "Who Killed Bob Teal?," the Op is assigned to identify Teal's murderer, having read the earlier stories makes the Op's emotional involvement in the case more understandable, and more effective, than coming to the story without having seen the developing relationship.

My advice? When in doubt, if possible, read it in order.

Having said that, it should be acknowledged that some authors make it difficult to do this. Bernard Cornwell's series about Napoleonic British Army Officer Richard Sharpe, for example, are not written in chronological order, and so are difficult to read in chronological order. Some of the most recent books in that series are set as Sharpe's military career is just beginning.



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