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Find more Trends in Crime Fiction Series
Keeping a long-running series fresh isn’t easy. Some authors cope by simply ending the series—but if the series is successful, that’s uncommon. More often, authors simply start a new series and alternate as their creative whims dictate. Some new series are spinoffs built around characters that started out playing smaller roles in earlier books, and some are cut from whole cloth. But even in those latter instances, authors are often unable to resist the temptation to write those new characters into the old series to make things exciting. Here are some chart-topping examples of spinoffs, mergers, and acquisitions.
Harry Bosch & Mickey Haller series, by Michael Connelly
Connelly made his career with a stunning sequence of novels starring LAPD detective Harry Bosch (introduced in The Black Echo, 1992). But in The Lincoln Lawyer (2005), he gave us the fascinating new character Mickey Haller, a jaded, antiestablishment lawyer who works out of his Lincoln Town Car. The Brass Verdict (2008) costarred Haller and Bosch and, while they have shared the page again since then, Booklist editor-in-chief Bill Ott has noted clear differences between the Bosch and Haller novels. Put simply, the former plumb the depths of their hero’s inner life, while the latter are marvels of plotting. Longtime Connelly fans probably hold Harry Bosch dearest in their hearts, but the Haller novels are chart toppers, too.
Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series, by Robert Crais
Ex-marine, ex-LAPD, ex-mercenary Elvis Cole is an L.A.-based sleuth with a smart mouth, a flair for the martial arts, and a borderline sociopath—Joe Pike—for a partner. Early installments in this double-tough-guy series, which began with The Monkey’s Raincoat (1987), drew comparison to Robert B. Parker’s Spenser and Hawk. But Crais, while working within the constraints of the genre, still found his own winning formula. And fans hoping for an installment focusing on Pike finally got what they wanted in the surprisingly emotional The Watchman (2007), in which Pike confronts the childhood pain that has led to his lonely life. The success of that book initiated a rare turnaround in series billing, and within a few books, Pike was playing leading man. In Taken (February 2012), the pair shares top billing, but with Cole held hostage, it’s up to Pike—and new supporting actor, mercenary Jon Stone—to take action.
Lucas Davenport/Virgil Flowers series, by John Sandford
In his long-running series (starting with Rules of Prey, 1989), steely-eyed, cynical Minneapolis cop Lucas Davenport has gradually worked his way up from patrolman to become head of Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. This series features serious crimes, memorable villains, sharp plots, snappy dialogue, and more than a little gallows humor. Virgil Flowers, a low-key, T-shirt-wearing loose cannon, made his debut as a secondary character in Invisible Prey (2007). Though Flowers reports to Davenport, in Dark of the Moon (2007), he was the leading man, and since then, Sandford seems to be alternating books for each character.
Kate Shugak & Liam Campbell series, by Dana Stabenow
Stabenow won an Edgar for A Cold Day for Murder (1992), her debut novel and her first book featuring Kate Shugak, a rough-and-tumble Aleut PI whose cases take her into the wilds of Alaska. In Fire and Ice (1998), Stabenow introduced Alaska State Trooper Liam Campbell, a straight arrow who does things by the book and a good counterpoint to headstrong renegade Shugak. Stabenow wrote four Campbells and then seemingly put the series on hold after Better to Rest, in 2002. But a decade later, in this year’s Restless in the Grave (published in February 2012), she found a clever and organic way to bring the two protagonists together.
Grant County, Atlanta, and Georgia series, by Karin Slaughter
Blindsighted (2001) inaugurated the grim, socially conscious Grant County series, in which Slaughter’s lead characters—pediatrician and part-time coroner Sara Linton; her ex-husband, police chief Jeffrey Tolliver; and detective Lena Adams—seemed to suffer as much as the victims of the horrific crimes they investigated. After five Grant County books, Slaughter wrote what appeared to be a stand-alone thriller, Triptych (2006), featuring Will Trent of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. But she followed that up with Fractured (2008) before writing Undone (2009), which brings the Grant County and Atlanta characters together in a series that is now called the Georgia series. One more twist and we’re just going to call them all “Books by Karin Slaughter.”
Will Lee, Stone Barrington, Ed Eagle, Holly Barker, and Rick Barron series, by Stuart Woods
With more than 40 novels, five series, and a cast of characters that spends more and more time together, keeping track of Woods’ books is no picnic. (It doesn’t help that three of his series leads have last names beginning with B-a-r.) He’s best known for the series featuring Stone Barrington, the ex-cop who became a lawyer and then a PI with a list of clients spanning the globe. “Often flawed, always popular” might sum up Booklist’s take on Woods over the years; cardboard-thin characters and exotic locales make him the logical successor of Sidney Sheldon and Danielle Steel. And Woods’ penchant for promoting his characters to exalted positions makes him the perfect choice for readers who love wish-fulfillment scenarios. Scan these bullet points to get a sense of things—and, yes, we know we left some things out.
J. P. Beaumont & Joanna Brady series, by J. A. Jance
J. A. (Judith Ann) Jance made her debut writing about Seattle detective J. P. (Jonas Piedmont) Beaumont in Until Proven Guilty (1985). She added a series about former Arizona sheriff Brandon Walker in 1991 (Hour of the Hunter); one about a current Arizona sheriff, Joanna Brady, in 1993 (Desert Heat); and one about Ali Reynolds, an ex-broadcaster who returns home to Arizona, in 2006 (Edge of Evil). Given this prodigious output, Jance may be unusual in that she’s only merged series in two books. In Partner in Crime (2002), Beaumont works a case in Brady’s jurisdiction, and tension between the two turns romantic. They cross paths again in Fire and Ice (2009), and their history together makes it perhaps the more satisfying of the two books.
Stay tuned for the next installment of this series, Trends in Crime Fiction Series, “Books by the Yard.”
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