A while ago (and I’m embarrassed at how long it has taken me to post this!) Regina sent me a letter about the following:
“… I am becoming a little annoyed with authors who write long series of books and in the latest book refer to characters who have appeared in previous books. If an author writes a book every year in a series, I, for one, can only remember the basics of the last book but not every minor character. This has happened to me again as I started to read ***** *****’s newest book and I could not remember most of the characters. I bought the last book for my Nook so I could become familiar with the newest book characters.”
This sort of has a connection with what I feel about the times my favorite Cozy Mystery authors have their sleuths visit a far away place. I don’t usually like the out of town trips because I feel like I get invested with the main character’s small circle of secondary and tertiary home town characters.
I liken what you are talking about with my sleuth coming back to her home town for the next three books and then in the fourth book, one of the secondary or tertiary characters from out of town comes to visit. It’s at those times that I think “Who is this person?”
How do you feel about an author bringing back a character from a long time ago? Do you think the author is simply trying to “liven things up”? Do you find yourself having to “look up” who that character is/was? OR Is your memory better than ours?
I don’t mind long-lost characters dropping in for a visit – provided that the author does their job and works in a reminder of who this visitor is and the important points of the relationship to the main character. Often times it only needs a few sentences to remind a reader of who the visitor is, but sometimes authors seem to forget that the reader may not remember as much as the writer does.
DelAnne Frazee says
I have a long standing habit of rereading the previous books in a series right before the new one comes out so I can refresh myself on the story line and characters. It is the only way I can keep everything straight.
I read a lot of cozy mysteries and I don’t really have an issue with this. I do sometimes run into a character that I don’t quite remember but I can’t remember it ruining a book for me. What bothers me is when a character is introduced in such a way that it seems like they were going to be important and then they just disappear..or when a character’s behavior changes radically from one book to the next.
I find those tend to be “red herring” characters so the author can cast suspicion around and keep the reader guessing.
This is a really interesting question. As a reader I never really mind when a character returns; like SunnyReads says, so long as the author explains who the character is, I’m fine with it. As a writer, I found it fun to take minor characters from my first book and make them more significant in my second book. But there’s definitely a balance between reminding readers of important back story, and giving too much (or too little) detail. 🙂
I enjoy it when authors bring back old characters because it shows how small the world really is. It is not uncommon for people I knew 20-30-40 years ago to reenter my life. I agree with the previous comment in that the novelist needs to remind the reader how the main and revived characters interacted in a previous time period.
Personally I wish every author in every genre would do as Rita Mae Brown does in her Mrs Murphy (cat) mysteries. She has a complete list of characters, even the “cast regulars,” wittily described, at the beginning of each book.
I don’t know if it’s age or laziness on my part, but when a book introduces more than about seven characters, I start getting lost … I had to leave off reading one book b/c the author (normally one I adore) had about 25 characters with “speaking roles” and I felt hopelessly lost.
I’ve a friend who actually keeps a piece of paper in her books and writes down each character as s/he is introduced so she can keep them straight. I used to smile at her for it, but not any more! O_o
Danna - cozy mystery list says
Marja, when I listen to some of my Ngaio Marsh mysteries I sometimes have to keep rewinding over and over because she has a tendency of having so many characters in her novels. It may take me a while to get through the beginning of her book, but it’s worth it.
However, I have to really like an author to do that. I hope it’s not “age or laziness on my part” but I usually just stop reading a book (my fifty page rule) if the author isn’t one of my “favorites”. There are just too many authors to read – I’m not willing to waste my time trying to make it through their books.
So there you go, Marja, I am decreeing that it is neither age nor laziness on your part!
Now that I have a Nook, it’s all too easy to buy ebooks! I have a similar problem with many-character books, so have taken to highlighting character names (in the ebook) for reference as they are first introduced. For hardback versions, I, too, have made lists of characters with a short description.
Danna - cozy mystery list says
What a great idea, Sherry!
Judy E. says
I am currently reading 14 series and love them all. I would be very disappointed if the author did not bring back the characters from the previous books. I become very fond of all the characters, that is the point of a series as far as I am concerned. I do have to admit, I have to refresh my memory ever so often, but then I get to reread a favorite. For the author not to mention any of the previous characters is like killing them off at the end of each book.
Jennifer Michelle says
I actually like this – I enjoy the continuity. Ideally, the author makes sure you know who the character is without having to read an earlier work. And I often love digging back and reading books I had missed, simply because I wanted to learn how that character first got introduced.
Sugar H. says
For the ‘life time’ of the series, vacations and the occasional obscure visitor can actually make the series better. If I am all caught up on the series, and reading the new books as they are published, I feel the same way about the character’s vacation, and the obscure character dropping by. If I am reading the books back to back, these situations actually increase my interest and attachment to the overarching storyline. After several books in the hometown, the change of scenery the vacation book provides is refreshing; and the peripheral character dropping by is a nice follow up for old aquaintances.
linda c says
Danna, This has been a pet peeve of mine, also. I read so many books over the year that there is no way I can remember each and every character in each series. Sometimes, especially when a writer doesn’t have a book published, say maybe, for two years, I even forget the plots from the first books of any series, let alone the characters.
Now I realize that some writers can’t always finish a book each and every year, especially if we readers don’t want a hurried book. But when a very minor character suddenly becomes a major character in later books the only way I would be able to remember what that minor characters role was is to reread the earlier book. And I find that there are just way too many good books on the shelves for me to want to reread those earlier books in order to see what role that minor character had.
I sure hope that made some sense!!
Let me give an example of that. Now, I love Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone books. And I will read these books no matter what, I think!!
But in some earlier books Kinsey had some interaction with some of the members of her biological family. But then in later books, I found no mention of the members of this family what so ever. Now if in later books Sue Grafton would reintroduce these biological members into the series, I think I would have to reread the books where these family members were first introduced.
There are just too many good books to read and only so much time to read in. I would bet a lot unless a reader had read each and every book in the series, some readers wouldn’t even know who the characters were!!
I have found, too, Danna, that I don’t really care for the series books to take place somewhere else than the town, village, whatever, the series is set in. Unless of course, like some of the characters from Joan Hess’ Maggody group all go out of town together, and how often would that happen!!
I just finished reading “Murder in Chelsea” by Victoria Thompson, which is set in New York City. How could this series even begin to be taken out of New York city!! Just wouldn’t be the same, to me anyway.
By the way, I have really come to enjoy the “A Gaslight Mystery” series by Victoria Thompson. I just couldn’t see this author taking this series out of New York!! just wouldn’t work for me!!
Just another note on the recurrence of minor characters: some books will have footnotes of what earlier books this character can be found in. I don’t know if I care for this either. I guess this just might be when a writer will throw his/her hands in the air and scream “Can’t we please anybody!!??”
Maria (BearMountainBooks) says
I usually enjoy it when a character returns! I don’t mind a couple of lines of reminder, but I don’t really want paragraphs and paragraphs of who the person is. Usually the characters are interesting enough that it works for me so even if I don’t remember, I don’t mind!
It can be tough for an author. If she puts in too many reminders, readers get bored. If she doesn’t put in enough, some readers get angry! I know several of my fans like to re-read the series when a new book comes out. So it’s a real balancing act…
Mary Joy W says
With a couple of gentle reminders, I enjoy having old characters reappear. Sometimes it’s a character I truly enjoyed and I missed in the books he or she did not appear. After reading a few pages, I usually can recall how the character fits into the picture.
Elizabeth S says
I Love the books that refer to past characters! It’s like revisiting a long lost friend! The cozies are generally my favorite type of mystery because they tend to go along with the ongoing life of the main character and I feel like I am just catching up with an old friend when a new book comes along! I wouldn’t change a thing…
linda c says
Danna, what an interesting topic this one is!! Each person that responded had a very valid reply. The one that caught my attention the most is Rubberback that told about people from his/her past resurfacing years later.
Our local shopping mall sponsors a free bingo day each month. At these bingos I am reacquainting myself with fellow classmates and fellow workmates. Some of these are people that I hadn’t seen for many years.
My 50th class reunion is coming up in 2 weeks. It will be nice seeing some of these long forgotten “characters.”
I think the initial comments from Regina were because the author didn’t explain who the character(s) was. The responses are all positive when the author reintroduces a character, and explains to the reader who may have ‘forgotten’ from an earlier story in the series. I just finished a really good book where the names of two characters were ‘all of a sudden’ mentioned. This book is the fourth in the series and I thought, ‘huh, who are these two guys?’. They were briefly explained two pages later, I assume in order to refresh the reader’s memory. That’s the technique every author should employ. When they don’t, the reader is frustrated.
In Maron’s Deborah Knott series there is a huge family w/spouses, children, etc. It would be very difficult to keep them straight if Maron didn’t include a family tree at the beginning of each story. This is greatly appreciated!
I think the author should take the time to put a list of characters in the beginning of all their stories. Some do this, but most don’t. Sometimes an author will introduce a character in the beginning of a story and not get back to that character for 100 pages or so. I also find that frustrating, because I then have to go back and reacquaint myself with that character.
As for ‘out-of-town’ settings, I think many authors do this in order to add creativity/dimension in their writing. I would assume there can be author ‘burn-out’ with the ‘same-o, same-o’. Page’s latest book set in Italy was a terrific story, even though I missed many of the ‘old’ characters. A book I just finished was half set in Italy and the other half set in its normal setting. New characters were introduced, but the ‘old’ characters were still there. Daheim sets several of her B&B books in settings other than the Hillside Manor Inn. Some I like, some I don’t. Albert has written some books in other settings that I haven’t liked as well as the Pecan Springs setting. I do agree if there are characters that we really like in a series, we miss them when they are excluded from the story.
linda c says
MJ, I have this problem with not so much the characters in the mystery type series but with the series such as Dorothea Benton Frank’s South Carolina Island series and Debbie Macomber’s Blossom Street series. It seems that series such as these two focus on different characters in each proceeding book. With some of these books in the series not coming out for say, a year or longer in between, I forget what part the characters played in previous books.
Ann B. Ross’ “Miss Julia” series seems to try to explain what role the characters had in previous books but some just don’t. I think one person said he/she tries to reread previous books from the series in order to recall what role the character had, which is fine, but with me reading so many series type books, that just would be too time consuming. Even with me being retired there are still just so many hours in the day. If I don’t get some sleep I tend to be very cranky!! Ask my DH!!
By the way, the two series that I mentioned, Dorothea Benton Franks’ series as well as the Blossom Street series and many many more like these, are favorites of mine. I will read any books from those series regardless if I can remember or recall the characters or not. I love series such as these. Some books only have to have a favorite writer’s name on the front cover for me to read it.
I read the Deborah Knott series avidly and just recently she was in New York and Sigrid Harald was there. That had me go back and read the Sigrid books from the beginning. I had read one once and didn’t really like it then, but now I’ve finished her series and will continue reading them.
I like reading books in a series and don’t mind when old characters resurface.
I myself was disappointed when Sigrid resurfaced in what was supposed to be Deborah and Dwight book. I had read, I think, two of the Sigrid books before I read “Bloody Kin,” which was the segue book between Sigrid’s world and Deborah’s. I enjoyed that book immensely, and I was actually a little dismayed when “Bootlegger’s Daughter” came out and I realized she’d second-cousined over to Deborah instead of continuing with Kate. But I was quickly charmed by the new series and have bought every one since with great anticipation and subsequent delight. At least that was the state of affairs until she brought Sigrid in unexpectedly and then shifted the action back to her world. Now I’m just waiting for a return of the series I liked. I tried Sigrid before and was content to be done with her story – I was rather hoping the author felt the same way.
linda c says
What Deborah Knott book was this, Apple? I thought I read all of the Deborah Knott series books but can’t remember this one.
It depends upon the author and how much effort I’m willing to put into reading her (or his books)! Sometimes I choose a book by a writer who is new to me, then put it back on the shelf if there is a long list of characters right at the beginning, because it seems like I’m going to have to invest a lot of time and concentration into that story. Then again, some of my favorites do list their characters up front and it is handy to refer to the list while I’m trying to spot clues and red herrings. This is slightly OT, but I really like it when an author or publisher lists the author’s books in order at the beginning of the novel. That way I can go right to the next book in the series. That seems to be falling by the wayside these days, a result of ebooks, perhaps? I use your chronological book lists regularly, Danna, thank you for the time and effort you put into organizing things.
Danna - cozy mystery list says
I got a very nice letter from Regina telling me that she has enjoyed seeing all of your comments on this topic. Thanks to ALL of you.
Although we have differing ideas on long-lost characters reappearing in our mysteries, it does look like most of us expect the author to reintroduce the characters by adding a few sentences as to their whereabouts. I guess I should say we appreciate it when our authors reintroduce the long lost characters, “expect” might be too strong a word.
linda c says
Some of your best topics seem to come from others’suggestions, Danna. It seems we have quite a few really interesting people with some very interesting opinions and ideas that frequent this forum. We are all so lucky!!