If you’ve been glancing at my last few “Books I Read This Month” (for January, February, and March), you’ll know I’ve been reading a lot of The Gaslight Mysteries by Victoria Thompson. I’ve currently just finished book seventeen, and this and other cozy mystery series have made me think about what I enjoy in series and what I wish they would stop doing.
You could say that this review, instead of being a straight-up analysis, is more of a case study.
Books so far in the series: (books I have read) Murder on Astor Place, Murder on St. Mark’s Place, Murder on Gramercy Park, Murder on Washington Square, Murder on Mulberry Row, Murder on Marble Row, Murder on Lenox Hill, Murder in Little Italy, Murder in Chinatown, Murder on Bank Street, Murder on Waverly Place, Murder on Lexington Avenue, Murder on Sisters’ Row, Murder on Fifth Avenue, Murder on Chelsea, Murder on Murray Hill, Murder on Amsterdam Avenue, (books I have not read) Murder on St. Nicholas Avenue, Murder in Morningside Heights, Murder in the Bowery, and Murder on Union Street (to be released May 1st, 2018).
Synopsis: This cozy mystery series, set around the turn of the 19th century, follows midwife Sarah Brandt and police detective Frank Mallory as they solve complex crimes and fall in love in the process. If that sounds like a series you’ve read, that’s because most cozy historical mystery series follow a similar premise (from The Molly Murphy series by Rhys Bowen to the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt Mysteries by Anne Perry).
I love this series. Each mystery is filled with twists and turns, as well as real-life historical details about the era. Often times the books deal with real issues (like prostitution in Murder on Sisters’ Row and prejudice against Italians in Murder in Little Italy) that people dealt with at the time. Some of the mysteries are better than others, as you will see reflected by my rating on goodreads (from three stars to five stars, depending on the book).
However, let’s face it, unless the mystery is really brilliant (like some of Agatha Christie’s books), you don’t read it just for the mystery, but also for the developing of the main characters. For example, throughout this series we have individual mysteries, but we also have the lives of Sarah and Frank. Sarah takes in a little girl, Catherine, who she decides to keep as her own daughter. Sarah reunites with her estranged, wealthy parents who she left to marry a poor doctor (who was murdered before the series starts). Frank’s son (also by a wife who is dead before the series begins), who is deaf and has a disfigured foot, undergoes surgery to walk again and learns how to do sign language.
While the individual mysteries count for a lot, without the main stories throughout the series I wouldn’t be interested in the mysteries. It’s why I’ve never read more books in Library Lover’s Mysteries by Jenn McKinlay or the Knitting Mysteries by Maggie Sefton. It’s not because the mysteries aren’t interesting; it’s because the main characters and carry-over plot aren’t intriguing enough for me to come back.
In my opinion, a mystery writer’s (and any author who writes a series) greatest strengths should be balancing the plot of individual books with the plot of a series overall.
The first few books of the Gaslight series do this really well, progressing Frank and Sarah’s relationship and their families with the individual cases. However, further down in the series, this main plot stagnates. Frank and Sarah don’t grow closer. I know that Thompson talked about how she had placed too many obstacles in front of their relationship and didn’t know how to overcome it. However, because of this, while the individual mysteries are still great, the series feels repetitive and boring because the major plot doesn’t change.
Luckily, Murder on Chelsea starts the plot forward again, but I will confess, after several books where the main plot was boring, it’s difficult for me to continue on in the series with the same passion I had when I read the first book.
Unfortunately, this is the fate of most mystery series, and series in general. The author comes up with a great plot and interesting characters, but then the publisher insists on a new book every year and the author’s creative juices are fried. Maybe the author only wanted the book to be a stand-alone (like Crocodiles on the Sandbank—first book in the Amelia Peabody series—by Elizabeth Peters), or they only planned a few books and didn’t know where to go afterwards.
For this reason, I read very few series. I may read the first book, or a couple, but I rarely read a series as long as The Gaslight Mysteries for that reason. Often times I’ll wait until the series is finished before I start it (I did this with The Hunger Games).
So my question is: do we as readers prefer to have a new book every year in our favorite series or would we prefer (like author George R. R. Martin is doing) to get a truly good book every few years? Is quality or quantity more important? To me, quality is always more important.
What are your thoughts?
Best wishes in your life full of adventure,