Franchise Building

I love a good mystery series. Anything from Miss Marple to Erast Fandorin can have me forgetting everything else but the book. I can also see why publishers love a good mystery series, they mean a built in audience for every new book in the series.

Creating a first in an intended series is no doubt a challenge. The author needs to create characters who can remain interesting over the series, the mystery needs to be compelling enough to stand on its own and the groundwork needs to be laid for long term interaction between the characters. The balance between the recurring characters and the mystery has to be perfect. Some writers, like Agatha Christie, make it work by keeping the "detective" well-defined but not central to the mystery. Neither Jane Marple nor Hercule Poirot ever spent pages pondering their lives or the burden of finding the guilty. Others, like P. D. James, use the "detectives" and the mysteries as mirrors of each other. This is much harder to do.

Martha Grimes got it just right in The Man With a Load of Mischief but she's gone off the deep end with her last half dozen books with more than half the story being devoted to Melrose Plant or Richard Jury pondering their pasts. Elizabeth George usually gets it right too but for me a little Havers goes a long way. Of course, P. D. James is a master at it. Jacqueline Winspear got it so wrong at the beginning of her Maisie Dobbs series the first book played like a comedy.

My latest book from Amazon Vine is Our Lady of Pain by Elena Forbes, the second book in a series and it's off to a slow start. We have the murder and then ... we slow down and endure a family lunch with one of the detectives. Then the detective gets to the scene of the crime and he rehashes the family lunch with his partner. Don't these people have a murder to solve? Only 20 pages in and I've heard about the "squad" and their last case "The Bridegroom" and what the detectives are wearing and not a whole lot about the crime itself.

I'm keeping an open mind. It can't be easy to create a series without the machinery showing once in a while. And I am more of a Law & Order fan than an NYPD Blue sort - I want to learn about the detectives over time, I don't want them front and center - I'm hoping Elena Forbes is too.

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