A couple notes

I have two unrelated things to write about today. I’m sure I’ve said this before, and it’s a banal thought anyway, but still, we just never know what’s going to happen to us, do we? Hobgoblin and I set out on a ride on Saturday with two other friends, and 30 miles into a 50-mile loop, about a half mile from the cupcake shop where we were going to rest and eat, Hobgoblin and another rider collided into each other and ended up on the road. One person thought the route was one way and the other thought it was the other way, and they didn’t have time to sort it out before their bikes hit. Hobgoblin is doing just fine, but we did spend the afternoon in the emergency room and he has a fractured rib and some serious road rash. It was a frustrating crash, because both riders involved are really good, really experienced cyclists, and neither one was riding recklessly or taking risks, and the crash happened anyway. It’s a lesson in how little control we have over anything, I suppose.

So poor Hobgoblin will be hobbling around for a little while until that rib heals.

There’s one more thing I wanted to write about here, before any more time passes. My book group that read Laurie King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice met last Friday to discuss the book, and we all agreed that while the book was fairly entertaining in moments, it wasn’t all that great. I felt that the first half was way too rushed and choppy, and it seemed clear that King was having a little trouble getting the series underway, trying to tell too much in too short a space. After Litlove’s post about episodic fiction, I realized that the book has an episodic structure, which is interesting and odd, because as Litlove points out mysteries and crime fiction are quintessential examples of plot-driven novels and are not typically episodic. What this means is that the real tension in the novel, the real plot, is the relationship between Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes, and the detecting and mystery solving are there solely to further this relationship. All this leads to an odd hybrid of a novel that I don’t think ever comes together.

I did think the interaction between Russell and Holmes was interesting, and I’ve taken to heart all the comments telling me that the series gets better, so I may possibly continue with it just to see how the characters develop.

This book also leads me to wonder why it is that so often the first book in a mystery series isn’t very good. I haven’t read enough to have a reliable sample, so tell me if you think I’m wrong, but it does often seem to happen that a mystery author takes a couple books to really get things going. Why is it hard to get a mystery series going when authors of stand-alone books have to get their own books going without the luxury (in most cases) of having more books in a series to get things right?

10 Comments

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10 responses to “A couple notes

  1. I don’t know how you manage to survive being married to Mr. Accident Prone. I’d be in a constant state of panic. Anyway, glad to hear he’s okay.

    I agree that usually the first book in a mystery series doesn’t seem to be as good as others (our recent introduction to P.D. James being a prime example of that). One exception (no surprises here) is Ross Macdonald’s Moving Target, which I thought was terrific. Also, I loved the first one in Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series (One for the Money). Things have changed since Macdonald’s day, though. Whereas I think he (and from the two I’ve read of hers, his wife) kept getting better and better, those who are popular now and start cranking them out for their publishers seem to go downhill. I think Evanovich was at her very best about mid-series.

  2. Gute Besserung to the hobbling Hob! Sorry to hear about his accident. I hear ribs can be painful.

    Funnily enough, the mystery novel I’m writing was episodic, but I found it didn’t gel, so it’s now plot-driven. I find being driven by plot very sweaty work – I lay awake at night worrying if the connections are faulty – so I can imagine that it takes authors a while to get to grips with the demands of plot.

    I agree with Emily: Janet Evanovich was on the mark from the first book of her Plum series.

  3. Owie-ouchie! My sincere commiserations to the Hobgoblin and hope he mends very soon. Very interesting what you say about crime and plotting. Makes me think of the Alexander McCall Smith novels with Precious Ramotswe, that (as far as I could tell – I gave up on the first one) were also episodic, in that they had lots of little overlapping stories in one book. I didn’t find it very gripping. I’ve heard exactly the same as you say here about Laurie King – bit of a duff first novel but worth persevering. Perhaps the need to put the plot first means that the characters don’t lead the story, and need to be worked on over subsequent tales. But I also think plotting is really hard for writers, and maybe that takes time and practice too.

  4. I’m glad that bike season is nearly over, so everyone can go home and heal properly! It’s been such an odd year in so many ways. I hope Hobgoblin is not in too much pain, or has been given some good pain meds in the meantime. I know he has lots of great books to enjoy during recovery!

    On mystery series, the first book in Ann Perry’s Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series [Cater Street Hangman] was riveting, and I think that all of the volumes, give or take a few, were just as quality reading. The first volume introduces Charlotte and Thomas to each other when her sister is murdered, and so there was a lot of room for character development, clash of classes, etc, that kept evolving with each new book in the series. Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple series’ first novel, Death at Wentwater Court, was also a good first book. I do agree with Litlove on the Alexander McCall Smith series — a friend recommended it and I could not get past the first half of the first book.

    Not having written a mystery, I suspect that author’s outlining and goals at the beginning will determine how good that first book will be. If the characters are not as well-developed, and the focus isn’t as tight, the reader picks up on that no matter how great the plot of the mystery is.

  5. I don’t know if it’s entirely true that all mystery series start off poorly, but even supposing this generally is true, I think it’s important to remember that not all non-series authors always write stand-alone pieces of fiction that are amazing. Many novels have weaknesses, and even within the oeuvre of an author who doesn’t write serialized fiction, we will generally pick out the best of the lot. Sometimes these books are the author’s first, but I think more often than not, when we look at the great writers who wrote more than one thing, we generally speak of how their earlier works are less mature and developed, that the author was still finding his or her stride. Even poor Shakespeare wasn’t immune from this!

  6. Sorry to hear about the Hobgoblin. It’s no wonder you have no problems with doctor’s visits, but I’d hate to overcome my fear by visiting the emergency room so often! :) I hope he’s feeling better soon! I’m glad I’m not the only one who couldn’t get on with Andrew McCall Smith’s first Precious Ramotswe mystery (per the other commenters)–I never made it through the first book either. I wonder if knowing you’re going to write a mystery series makes an author think differently with a first novel–wanting to set things up–characters and plot? Of course some authors are more successful than others. At the moment I’m reading a Frank Tallis mystery set in turn of the century Vienna, which I think is very good (so far–I’m not quite halfway through). I’ve also heard Andrew Taylor’s Lydmouth series is very, very good, though I’ve not yet read any of those books yet.

  7. I’m glad no one was hurt any worse than they were, and wishing Hobgoblin a fast recovery.

  8. Poor Hobgoblin! This isn’t the first trip to the emergency room this year, is it? Maybe he needs to start wrapping himself in bubblewrap or something before he goes on a ride. I hope the mending goes quickly.

    I’m n ot a mystery reader really so I can’t even begin to try and answer your question. But it makes me wonder if it takes so long for a series to get off the ground sometimes, why do people keep reading them? I mean, I’m not certain I could tolerate reading a few not so good or only okay books waiting for them to get better.

  9. Oh, I hope the hobgoblin heals quickly! It sounds pretty upsetting, actually. A fractured rib can become the center of your whole world!

  10. Emily — Mr. Accident Prone got stung by a wasp the other day! It never ends, and thank God I’m a calm person or I would be panicked all the time. It’s interesting to hear about some different cases. I really haven’t read enough series, so I should probably keep my mouth shut about this!

    Charlotte — oh, how interesting! I imagine that was quite a challenging transition. I’m not someone who thinks well about plot, so I can imagine a little bit how difficult it is, even though I’ve never actually tried it myself. Perhaps I should try some Evanovich!

    Litlove — I’ve certainly heard enough to convince me to keep going with the King series, when I have the time. You’re probably right about needing to pay attention to plot and so neglecting characters, or in this case, working hard on the characters and neglecting plot. I can see that to do both would be very hard.

    Debby — Yes, we’re all ready for a break, I think. I’m so happy just riding for fun, and I don’t even want to think about training and racing. Interesting to hear about a couple more series that started off well. Probably it’s a difficult enterprise getting a series started, but some manage to pull it off. Both you and Litlove have convinced me not to try the McCall Smith series. Not having written a mystery either, I can only imagine just how challenging the whole process is!

    Steph and Tony — excellent point. You’re right that many authors follow a similar path of improvement; it’s just that we don’t necessarily read all their work because they don’t form a series. And yes, a lot of times that first book is one people only read if they are really devoted fans.

    Danielle — I’m way too familiar with emergency rooms at this point! When we were there I said to Hobgoblin something about how familiar it all felt … I’d really rather not be that familiar with it! I wonder, too, how knowing it will be a series makes the whole novel-writing experience different. And I wonder how often people actually know it will be a series. It seems that if you have to set things up, you have to think long-term, and that could complicate the whole process.

    Bardiac — thank you! Hobgoblin is already feeling a lot better, and is talking about riding again in a week or so!

    Stefanie — it’s the second trip to the ER this year — we also went last summer. Fun for us! :) I think a lot of times people start reading series in the middle and then go back and catch up on the earlier works later. And also, for me at least, sometimes even if the book isn’t that great, I do get curious about the characters and about where the whole thing is going. And sometimes I’m willing to trust people when they say it gets better. But yeah, it can be a real investment of time.

    Courtney — I’ve never fractured a rib, but I believe Hobgoblin when he says it hurts a whole lot. He’s already started to feel better, though, so that’s good.

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