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January 1&15, 2017 BOOKLIST
Find more Trends in Crime Fiction Series
New crime-fiction series appear every week. Readers who love those first installments may hope to see dozens of sequels, while the authors will certainly hope to cash hundreds of royalty checks. But as the series scene grows ever more crowded, some of the most commercially successful franchises have shown signs of staleness, leading us to wonder how much longer they can possibly run.
Kinsey Millhone series, by Sue Grafton
When you start a series with A Is for Alibi (1982), B Is for Burglar (1985), and C Is for Corpse (1986), you’re setting yourself—and your readers—up for a long haul. It takes a lot of writerly stamina to keep a series fresh for that long, and recent books have indicated Grafton’s flagging energy for the project. Of T Is for Trespass (2007), Connie Fletcher wrote, “As Grafton makes her way through the alphabet, not only is she using every letter, but, in this book at least, she seems to use every letter thousands of unnecessary times.” With only four more letters to go (unless Grafton adds letters not in the English alphabet), the end of the series is definitely nigh. V for Vengeance (2011) earned a rare Booklist star—fans will hope that heralds a big finish to Millhone’s story line.
Kay Scarpetta series, by Patricia Cornwell
Early installments in the series about stylish, food-loving medical examiner Scarpetta (Postmortem, 1990; The Body Farm, 1994) earned praise from Booklist and many others, but even in the 1990s there were signs of the unevenness and lethargy that would come to characterize this best-selling series in the 2000s. Of The Scarpetta Factor (2009), reviewer David Pitt wrote: “Crime series often grow tired after periods of sustained success, but in this case, the lead character feels every bit as tired as her series.” Yet with no high-concept naming system to guide us, who knows how long the series will last?
Butch Karp and Marlene Ciampi series, by Robert K. Tanenbaum
Tanenbaum’s long-running Butch Karp and Marlene Ciampi series (now well into the twentysomethings, installment-wise) started strong, then suffered from illusions of authorial grandeur, and has been hitting and missing ever since. In the early going (Reversible Error, 1992), Karp was a tough-minded Manhattan assistant D.A. who walked mean streets as confidently as he paced courtroom floors. Then Karp’s wife, Marlene, a lawyer and another strong character, took co-lead status, and that worked, too, for a while. Ah, but then the overstriving began. Somehow Karp became not only a tough-guy D.A. but also, rather inexplicably, a terrorist fighter. As David Pitt put it in his review of Betrayed (2010), describing Karp’s move from crime fighter to terrorist crusader, “Rarely has a successful series author switched gears in a way so likely to alienate his core audience.” Since then it’s been off and on, with the latest, Bad Faith (2012), overstuffed with three plots (one, of course, involving Karp tracking a terrorist). Obesity is a national health concern; Tanenbaum suffers from the narrative variety of the same affliction. Here’s our advice: when the terrorist plate comes around, take a pass.
Stephanie Plum series, by Janet Evanovich
Starting with her debut in One for the Money (1994), Stephanie Plum, the irrepressible bail bondswoman from Trenton, New Jersey, charmed both readers and Booklist reviewers for a full dozen titles. Lean Mean Thirteen (2007), however, proved unlucky for author and readers. Decent enough but it marked a downward turning point. GraceAnne DeCandido wrote of Explosive Eighteen (2011), “The thrill is gone from this long-running series, along with the giggles, the gentle pokes, and the rip-roaring enjoyment. Nearly all the characters have turned into caricatures. . . . Stephanie never learns and never grows, just makes the same bad choices over and over. It’s exhausting.” Ouch! Unlike Sue Grafton, whose alphabetical naming convention for the Kinsey Millhone series guarantees a 26-book run, Evanovich faces no such limits, but we’re still betting against a Happy Hundred.
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