It’s not a new topic, I’m sure. And still. I would like to know your opinion. Some reader (fans ? acolytes ?) claim that readers new to a series have to start with the first instalment of it (Ian Rankins or Karin Slaughters series have been named). Do you have to ? Is there any real necessity ? What do you think ?

I like to read books and not series and I would think that a good writer can sum up the life of his/her protagonist in a few word, so that there is no need to read all the books you don’t care for. Therefore, far more interesting, can you give examples ? Serials where the reading of the whole series brought something new to you, like shattering your expectations build up in earlier instalments of this series - expectations regarding the plot line or the authors style.

One example: William Kent Krueger leads his protagonist, Cork O’Conner in the earlier instalments of his series through some tough personal crises, so after “Blood Hollow”, where O’Connors life settles down, one wonders whether Kruger can keep the drive up in this series. Obviously Krueger realized that and surprised the reader with a stunning final in his next book, “Mercy Falls”. You don´t have to read the series but in this case it adds to the fun.

Can you think of more examples ? Please, brain me up, please.

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Of course a good book written by a good author can be picked up at any point and read...but to begin at the beginning, or even a few books back gives the reader a sort of "insider" feeling. They know a little backstory on some of the characters, and possible events that are alluded to in the new book would have been explained in former ones. It's really up to the reader. I like to start at the beginning, but if there is a long back list, I'll read the new one first and decide if I like the author. If so, I'll start my collection and "begin at the beginning, and go all the way to the end, and then stop."
I write a series. I always meant the life of the protagonist to be a separate story running behind the cases he works in each novel. The books can be read out of order, but since he ages and his personality changes, reading the books in order is the preferred method.
As a reader, I read out of order. That is careless of me, or has something to do with the fact that I lack the time and energy to search out earlier novels.
As far as I'm concerned, what's contained in any story about the characters should be what's relevant to the story being told. When I pick up any book I expect the characters had a 'before' that I know nothing about, and perhaps I won't find out about. Taking that approach to a series book, I just assume that if there are connections/relationships/events in reference from the past that I'll at least understand bad relationship/bad experience or whatever. I may not know all the specifics but all I really need to know is where things stand.

I think my first Ian Rankin book was the 11th or 12th in the series - The Falls. I never felt lost for a second. This may be because of my philosophy above, but that's me, anyway. However, I love reading series books. I love it when a character captivates me so that I want to spend more time with them. I've read the entire Rebus series. I sometimes suggest people start with The Black Book and read through - it all depends.

Obviously, if you're writing a series the characters will have a history that evolves over the course of the books and if you read out of order you have to accept that. I personally like layered stories that give me more of the characters, but I don't want character at the expense of plot or plot at the expense of character. Plot should reveal character. The situations the characters face and their subsequent choices should show the reader who they are. Then again, I'm one who believes the truth of people is ultimately in what they say and do, not what they think. In that respect, I do think the risk with a character's history is that the author will rely on it to tell the reader about them, instead of developing the relationships in a way that shows the reader what the dynamics are.
As far as I can see from some of your earlier posts Rankin is one of your favourite authors. Therefore, perhaps he is an good example. He writes good books (nothing more in my eyes, but let’s not argue) and yes, John Rebus life developes along the series, but I miss a certain element of surprise. Certainly, Rankin is an intelligent author and matured along his series, but still, that what happens in his books is always in a certain framework.

Surprise can also lie in the author. Paula L. Woods (for examples) wrote a first book which is about the racial conflict between black and white and the high educated black urban professionals. She is a good writer but the later books seemed kind of predictable. But surprise, surprise she changed the course of her series and her protagonist staid believable. In my experience this is as rare as it is good.

I agree with you. If you read out of order you have to accept that characters have a history. But in stand alones they also have a history - it all depends on the writer.
I agree with you. If you read out of order you have to accept that characters have a history. But in stand alones they also have a history - it all depends on the writer.

Yes, indeed. It's more that in standalones you don't tend to reference anything about the person that isn't relevant to that particular story, so the reader doesn't have the same sense of what there is to explore outside the story being told. In a series book there may be a fleeting reference that bridges something from one book to another book down the road (ie Rebus and Cafferty). In my own case, having a manuscript shopped around, one of the rejections was for this reason: they said it was clear from the story that the three main characters had known each other before and they wanted to read that book. What can you do but shake your head? It was pitched as a series, and how they met will be dealt with down the road (assuming I get that opportunity). Personally, I thought Nick Stone's approach of following his debut with a prequel was brilliant - you can read in order or out of order and not be at all confused.

However, I think that some of the 'predictability' of a series book is why series readers stick with them. There are certain things they've come to expect based on past experience and they want to spend time in that world. And I don't mean that series books are stale, but I like the sense of catching up with people I know. I have certain expectations of a series book, which I would say can be as challenging for writers to meet as creating a whole new set of characters. I see that even approaching the second book in a planned series. I've been following the debate on Michael Connelly's The Overlook on 4MA with interest - people have very strong opinions when a series shifts.
"However, I think that some of the 'predictability' of a series book is why series readers stick with them"

Yes, sad but true. And I see that this is a very important point for a writer, but as a reader I don't care. I'm no member of 4MA but I think, I heard similar "arguments" elsewhere.

"...so the reader doesn't have the same sense of what there is to explore outside the story being told."

I like it when a story shows me that lifelines are connected and shaped by this connections - it is, I think, part of the charm of "Mystic River" and its successors (California Girl, To the Power of Three ... ). In consequence I like these mini-series of related books like the Washington Quartett by Pelecanos. There you have an outside which can be explored and you have distinctive stories.
Yes, sad but true. And I see that this is a very important point for a writer, but as a reader I don't care.

Oh, the reader in me cares enormously. I'm a series junkie and far more likely to try an author building a series. Standalones have no time incentive to read for me. Just a difference in our preferences, I'd say. Some love series, some don't, although there are standalones I've abolutely loved, but I still love getting back with series characters I follow. And if I went out and bought the next Rebus book and it was all porn and one sexual romp after another and Rebus had a side job working for Cafferty I'd be done, because that wouldn't be consistent with the series.
I am a stickler for reading series books in order, but that's likely more due to my personality type than necessity for some series. It's also likely due to me being a devout fantasy reader for several years before starting to read more mysteries.

I've been slowly plugging through early Patricia Cornwell, early Donald Westlake, and early Robert B. Parker to catch up to the new titles. Even if the stories stand alone, I like to see how the author evolves in his or her writing over time.

Some books, like Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books you have to read in order or with all the time-travel and inside jokes and book crossing plots, you'd be lost without reading the first ones first.
I do TRY and read series books in order, but if I don't, it's not a major problem, and I will often start a new series in the middle and then go back to the start. Most of the series I enjoy can be read out of order, but it gives that bit more context if you read them in series order. In Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor series, events in THE DRAMATIST have so much more impact for me because I had got to know certain characters over the whole series, but people I know who read only that one also said how powerful that book was. The events in the characters' lives shape their personality and behaviour. In some series that's very important, in others, it's not. I love Westlake's Dortmunder series but have never bothered about series order. Similarly with Ed McBain's 87th Precinct series. Charlie Williams' Mangel trilogy can easily be read out of order, but I'm glad I read them in order. Ray Banks SATURDAY'S CHILD and DONKEY PUNCH are both excellent books and you could easily read the second one without having read the first, but for me, coming to DONKEY PUNCH having already read SATURDAY'S CHILD gave me that little bit extra understanding of the protagonist I think. On the other hand, with Eddie Muller's wonderful Billy Nichols books (sadly, only two), I would definitely recommend anyone to read them in order because events are so closely interlinked. SHADOW BOXER stands on its own merits very well, but I would always say to someone to read THE DISTANCE first.

Sandra's example of Nick Stone is a good one. When I read MR CLARINET, it was clear that the protagonist and another character had a history and I knew I wanted to read it, and I was very glad he wrote it, but I didn't have to read it to enjoy MR CLARINET. With good series books you don't need to know that history, but if you enjoy the characters, then you are going to want to know more about them, discover how they develop and what makes them act as they do.

So yes, I try to read in order, but I'm not anal about it. If it's at all possible, I will do so, but I'm quite happy to pick up a book in the middle of a series and start there. I also love standalones.
Thanks for your examples. Nick Stone and Ray Banks are new to me.

And I agree. Starting with the first book of a series when you want to "test" an unknown authors/series is not the best of ideas.
Leslie Charteris kept his first SAINT book out of print on purpose for years. He was no more eager to have it paraded in public than any other "youthful indiscretion." The first Saint novel I read was Saint in New York, then I went back and read SAINTS GETAWAY, ENTER THE SAINT (which Charteris often claimed was the first Saint book..it wasn't). Eventually I read the first one, Meet the Tiger, and realized why he kept it out of print for so long!

Burl
This seems to be an intensely personal issue. I have no compulsion about reading in order, and in fact I sometimes like reading an earlier book in a series after knowing the characters well - I find it satisfying to fill in the blanks. There are also lots of series that get stronger after the first couple of books, so coming into it late may be a good thing in those cases. And then there are series being translated from another language that so often are translated with no regard to order. I guess I'm glad it doesn't bother me or I couldn't enjoy Arnaldur Indridason, whose first book (or is it the first two) are not available except in Icelandic.

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