Is it really necessary to read a series in order?
I am currently writing the third book in my DCI Dani Bevan series of detective novels. Before penning this latest instalment I’d just completed the sixth novel of my Imogen and Hugh Croft Mystery books. As I was tapping away on my laptop this afternoon, I spent a little while considering how the tone of a book can vary greatly from one story to the next. Even if the characters remain the same, their circumstances change and hopefully, they learn some lessons from each new case they solve. But things change for the author too. I tend to find that if I’ve just completed a very action packed novel, my next will be more contemplative, perhaps focussing on the personal lives of the protagonists to a greater degree.
Does this mean it is essential to follow a series religiously from start to finish? Actually, I don’t think so. Each book I write is intended to be self-contained. There are back-stories which play out across the books – particularly in the Imogen and Hugh Croft series. However, the mysteries themselves, particularly in my more recent novels, are intended to stand completely alone. I believe that reading books out of sequence would simply give the reader a different, but certainly not an inferior, experience. Although if you examine the sales statistics, people are much more likely to buy the first book in a series and start out from there. It’s only logical, I suppose.
The first book is the one we tend to remember, like ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’ or ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Perhaps somewhere in our collective consciousness we consider the sequel to always be somehow inferior. And yet for most writers, myself included, we get better at it the more books we churn out!
In an ideal world, I would like readers to start at the very beginning and follow my characters through all of their many myriad twists and turns. But I wouldn’t like to feel that someone felt required to work their way dutifully through a metaphorical pile of tomes. If a particular title or plot line grabs a reader’s fancy, I really don’t think it would diminish the experience to start there. The important thing is to enjoy the book. On this point I think that all authors would agree.