Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here. One of retirement’s biggest advantages is finally having time to read (and reread) other people’s books. I tend to have three going at once—one on my iPad, one in print format, and one on audiocassettes (yes, still using a cassette player!) for listening while driving. At the moment, sprinkling in the occasional new title, I’m having a great time binge reading entire series I already own. Since most of these go back a ways, each one tends to have a healthy number of entries. I particularly enjoy seeing how the protagonist’s story develops from book to book . . . without having to wait a year for the next installment. In the best of all possible worlds, there IS a next installment to anticipate after I’ve reread all the ones that came before.
So, what have I been rereading? I finished all of C. H. Harris’s Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries a while back. I also recently reread Dana Stabenow’s Liam Campbell series, some in e-book and number three in an audio version. You have to love eBay for finding used audiocassettes, although which ones are available is pretty hit and miss. Then, after I reread all of Lindsey Davis’s Marcus Didius Falco series, alternating that with Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum capers, I’ve continued my visits to ancient Rome with Davis’s spinoff series featuring Falco’s daughter, Flavia Albia.
Are there drawbacks to rereading? A couple. Although I rarely remember who dunnit, I do occasionally recall bits of a plot. Fortunately, that doesn’t spoil the reread. In fact, there are a few books—comfort reads—where knowing what comes next has been something to look forward to. After all, at the end of a traditional mystery novel the bad guys are caught and the good guys win.
What does frustrate me are continuity errors. Reading back-to-back instead of once a year means those jump off the page and pull me out of the story. Sometimes it’s something that’s easy to overlook (for the author as well as the reader), but not when the author has said one thing in the last chapter of the previous book that is contradicted in the first chapter of the next one!
A related issue came up in recent Evanovich books. In addition to the main series, which has numbers in the titles, she wrote several other stories using Stephanie Plum. In at least one of them, there is a character who borders on having supernatural powers. The problem for me came when he started showing up in the numbered books, as if I, as a reader, should know who he was. I vaguely remembered hearing about him, but he stood out like a sore thumb in the non-woo-woo plots and could easily have been omitted from the stories. Frankly, having him there made me reconsider continuing to read the series. The newest, Dirty Thirty, is just out, but since I stopped at #27, I’m not sure when, or if, I’ll get around to it. I own #28 and #29 (I know I read them, although I’m drawing a blank on plots) and I really should reread them first. Or not.
Occasional “willing suspension of disbelief” is part of the deal writers and readers make with one another, and some writers make lemonade out of lemons by doing what I’ve heard called “hanging a lantern on” a contradictory or outrageous bit. Dana Stabenow has a character in her Liam Campbell series throw a book across the room after reading what is obviously the book in her Kate Shugak series in which Stabenow killed off Kate’s love interest.
These two series merged in Restless in the Grave (Kate #19), in which Liam and other regular characters from his books play major roles. By rights, it should be Liam #5, but that designation is given to Spoils of the Dead, which was published some years later. I started rereading it after #4, realized I was missing something, and spent way too much time searching online to figure out in which book both protagonists appeared. Hey—reading in chronological order is important!
One big advantage binge REreading has one over reading each title as it comes out is that it eliminates the frustration of the cliffhanger ending. I really hate these, especially the ones that are nothing more than a teaser for the next book—the one that won’t be out for an entire year! If there is a perfectly good, satisfying place to end the current book, then that last chapter setting up a future adventure should be separate and clearly labeled so readers like me don’t have to read it if they don’t want to.
Other kinds of cliffhangers, the ones that just stop short of telling you who is on the other side of the door (Evanovich), or whether a major character is going to live or die (Stabenow—twice!), are also annoying, but if the next book in the series is already at hand, at least I don’t end up tossing the book across the room.
Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-four books traditionally published and has self published others. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. In 2023 she won the Lea Wait Award for “excellence and achievement” from the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. She is currently working on creating new omnibus e-book editions of her backlist titles. Her website is www.KathyLynnEmerson.com.