Everybody loves characters in a series — well, almost everybody. More often than not, the series characters in mysteries and other genre fiction follow this general pattern toward a boring end.
First book — sharp, original, quirky or otherwise eccentric characters clashing and uniting in compelling, and sometimes, realistic ways.
Second book — the relationship between the characters evolves. The eccentric/original aspects soften or become repetitive character tics.
Third book — an artificial crisis must be posed to reignite the passion or conflict between the principal characters.
Fourth book — soap opera time…
There are exceptions. Donna Leon manages to keep me going back to dine and solve crimes in Venice with Inspector Brunetti. I mentioned dining first because with this particular series of procedurals, the passage from one meal to the next is as critical as moving between suspects and witnesses. I wish I could down a prosecco with my lunch in the company of Guido Brunetti.
Because I don’t want to name names on my bookshelf, I’ll take my examples from TV where the same principle holds and the pace of character development is accelerated. The rough and incompatible edges of characters in BONES (loosely based on the Kathy Reichs’ books) and CASTLE are warn away until opposites attract, overcome conflicts and become committed couples — couples that require BIG external conflicts to keep the drama and the banter going.
Like many mystery readers, I’ve fallen “in love” with some serial characters and followed them in books for years — even as my devotion waned. That’s why a comment the British mystery writer Russell James made at a mystery conference I attended a while back stays with me. He said that the main character in each of his books was experiencing the biggest and most interesting event of their lives. After that book, they weren’t as interesting. So he’d take a minor character from one book and turn that person into the lead character in the next, crafting a story about that second character’s biggest and most compelling life event.
I thought it was a brilliant idea and it certainly helps authors avoid the Perils of Pauline!
(FYI… if you have yet to discover Russell James give ‘Painting in the Dark’ a try. It was the book that introduced me to this talented writer.)