There are at least two kinds of books in series. One kind continues the series hero and supporting characters, but not necessarily in chronological, event-driven order. Examples of such series are the Sherlock Holmes stories, Christie’s Poirot series and her Miss Marple series. The Nancy Drew books and the Hardy Boys books also fall into this category.
The other type of series, more modern than the first, develops the life of the hero in a chronological, cause-and-effect, event-driven order. This is the type of series that some fans will read only in the order the books were written, because they want to experience the hero’s life in the order the events occur. Interestingly, my favorite mystery series when growing up was the Trixie Belden series, and those books were definitely chronological order and event-in-hero’s life driven. And my two Proof novels, Dirty Proof and Sound Proof, are written in sequential-events order. The third Proof novel will continue in that vein.
I’m a fan of Steven Saylor’s Gordianus books. Gordianus is a Roman finder, or detective, who lives before, during, and after the rise of Julius Caesar. The novels in the series are “interrupted” with collections of short stories sandwiched between — short stories featuring Gordianus, but at the same time short stories that aren’t in chronological order. Saylor isn’t the only writer to have done this. As a reader, I find this interruption of the novel form disappointing. I feel that the hero’s life is not progressing, especially because the short stories are often from different periods in the hero’s life. And, because the novels are in chronological order, I have to struggle to fit the short stories into a time framework. Going back and forth in a hero’s life pleases some readers and displeases others.
When writers decide to write a story out of sequence — for example, in their fifth book in a series, they might write about events that occurred before the first book in the series — publishers may decide to put numbers on the outside of the books, and these numbers refer to the chronological “place” the book holds in the series. If a series is complete, these numbers help. If a series is still in progress, the numbers may become invalid!
Many authors who write series grow tired of writing them. They need a mental and emotional break from the characters. They need time to let new plots develop So they take a break from the series as a way of replenishing the well. But so often, what they do is start a second series of books. Sometimes the characters in this second series know the characters in the first, sometimes they don’t. And sometimes it’s difficult to tell if a writer is writing one series or two. Tony Hillerman’s Joe Leaphorn and Jimmy Chee series was like this — maybe it was two series, maybe it was one series which wandered around a bit.
Some writers write series not about a single set of characters, but about people who live in the same town. Each character gets his or her own story. Romance writer Robyn Carr did this with her popular Virgin River series, though she stopped the series at twenty books and started a different series. When I read reviews of romance novels in Publishers Weekly, I notice that many of them are about, say, four sisters, each of whom gets her own book. Or five brothers. Or ten cousins. One good thing about this is that each author is committed to a short series, not an endless series.
The longest series I’m currently reading — that is, I haven’t stopped reading the series for one reason or another — is Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series. I’ve read the first twenty-three and am waiting for number twenty-four. The next longest series I’m still reading is the No. One Ladies’ Detective Agency series. I’m about to read the most recent book (seventeenth in the series).
Barbara Gregorich has one more Proof novel to publish before she has a series.