This week I have agreed to write a series of four books for Bloomsbury called THE MURDER NOTEBOOKS.
These are crime books which feature the same characters and have a story arc which spans the four books. Each book has a stand alone crime mystery but discoveries therein will contribute to the overall mystery of the series. While being a fantastic opportunity for a writer to develop a long and complex storyline it also presents some particularly interesting problems.
A detective series (Ian Rankin, John Harvey, Sue Grafton, Ruth Rendell) has a main character who is a detective. This character faces crime after crime and there is personal storyline which develops book to book. If you read book four before book three (as I did with the gruesome Mo Hayder books) you find out stuff about the main character that isn’t known in book three but that ‘stuff’ doesn’t spoil the enjoyment of book three.
Are you still with me?
When the series has a ‘story arc’ then you have a dilemma. You cannot ‘order’ readers to read the series book one through to book four. You have to shape the whole story on the basis that a reader may pick up book three and read that one first. (Interesting that publishers never put numbers on these books.)
So if a reader picks up book three of The Murder Notebooks there will be information there that is not known in book one and two. The task for the writer is to present that information without giving away the method or the mystery of how that information was uncovered.
Hence the reader is prompted to read books one and two (in the right order please) in order to find out.