Reading a Series

As I’m sure is true for most mystery readers, many of the books I read are part of a series. It often seems that’s about all we see when we look at book listings and reviews. But these series create a question, and a problem: how to read them.

Some series, such as those by William Kent Kruger and Louise Penny, I’ve read from the beginning, when the first book was published, and happily continued on as each new book came out. But many, many other series, old and newer, exist prior to my discovering them. Once I find an interesting new-to-me series, what do I do?  More to the point here, what do YOU do? 

It seems there are several options:

  • Read the first book in the series, which is usually the first one published.
  • Read whichever book in the series that initially got my attention.
  • Read the first book with the intention to keep reading the series occasionally.
  • Read the first book with the intention to read the series, book after book, straight through.

Most of the time I find myself trying to read a series in order, and read one and then, after reading something else, come back to the series and read the next one. It takes a long time to get through a series that way, and if the writer is active, they can sometimes outpace my reading of their books. Here are two series I’m currently reading, one now and then, as examples:

The Rivers of London series, which now includes a short story collection, Tales From The Folly.


the Rivers of London series

I’ve read the first two books, and intend to keep reading, but there are so many other books in the Read Right Away stack…

Chron St Mary spines

the Chronicles of St. Mary’s, Headline edition

The Chronicles of St. Mary’s is a wonderful series of novels, (the recent edition published by Headline is shown) and now a short story collection, The Long and the Short of It , (Night Shade Books). I read, again, the first two before being tempted away by something else. I’m planning on continuing on with these soon.

 I’m reading the short story collection now and enjoying it immensely.

One more, this time no image, is Christopher Fowler’s Bryant & May series, Again, the short story collection London’s Glory got me headed back to reading the series.

So, how do you manage your series reading? Are you a read-em-straight-through person, or now-and-then, or what?

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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18 Responses to Reading a Series

  1. Jeff Meyerson says:

    When I started reading mysteries in the early ’70s (I’d read some before, but not that many, and not systematically), I would read whatever I could find, With authors like Agatha Christie, it generally didn’t matter (except in a few cases, where it did, a little). When possible, even then I would start a series with book one and read straight through. I know I did that with Sayers and Marsh, at least. The Christie problem was minor – I read NEMESIS and then had to hunt up A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY, referred to in the later book. Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series was another I read willy nilly whenever I could find one, but ran afoul due to Bert Kling’s messy love life.

    Occasionally, however, there was a real problem with reading things as they showed up. (SPOILER ALERT) I got Nicolas Freeling’s AUPRES DE MA BLONDE in 1972 from the Mystery Guild, which I had joined then, and read it, not realizing that this was the book where he killed his series character. I did go back and read the rest of the series, but it was an anticlimax.) (END ALERT)

    Now I pretty must insist on reading a series from book one on, as they were published. I’m sure I could name a couple of dozen series I’ve done that with in recent years. Steven F. Havill, Archer Mayor, Marcia Muller, Margaret Maron, Margaret Mizushima, Peter Robinson, Andrea Camilleri, the list goes on. In some cases (Camilleri, for one) it probably wouldn’t matter if I read it out of order, but in most cases it does. The other question was about spacing, I believe. Certainly, in the ’70s at least, when I discovered a new to me author, I might well read five or more books in a row by that person. Now I would never do that. Two is probably the most I’ve done (I just read the last two of Mary Logue’s Claire Watkins series a few weeks ago) and I can’t see reading more than two or three in a row.

    I have read the first three or four of the Rivers of London series, more than that of the Chronicles of St. Mary’s, but the latter is troublesome because they jump around, change what has happened from one book to the next, etc. I think she has spun off a series about the lead character’s son (or daughter, haven’t read it yet).

    • The idea of reading in order, or trying to do so, seems be pretty common with serious mystery readers. It’s the practice of reading books in a series one after the other, back to back, that I most wondered about. No matter how good or likable a series is, such as Nero Wolfe, I can’t read more than a couple before I want something different. I hadn’t known of a spin-off of the St. Mary’s series. I’m enjoying the short story collection, The Long and the Short of It.

  2. Steve A Oerkfitz says:

    I try to read series starting with the first book. Luckily I latched on to series from book one-Michael Connelly, Peter Robinson, James Lee Burke, John D. MacDonald (Travis McGee). Some series I read out of order at first than went back and rstarted from number one-Ross MacDonald, Ed McBain. Some series it makes little difference which order you read them in-Agatha Christie for one.
    I read the first two Rivers and London books but haven’t picked up any more. Same thing with the Christopher Fowler. I liked them but I read so many different things that some writers fall by the wayside. Too many books not enough time.
    Looked up the Jodi Taylor books and they look dreadful to me. Thing I’ll pass on those.

    • You got in on the beginning of some good series there, Steve. Was the first Burke book Black Cherry Blues? That was the first of his I read, but then jumped around. I like the history aspect of the Taylor books. With Fowler’s Bryant & May books, I read the 4th, then went back to read the first and it was years before I got to the next one. Again, it was a short story collection that pulled me back.

  3. Wanda Milwee says:

    I try to find the first and read straight through. This plan is most likely when I read a review that prompts me to look for the first in a series. Decades ago when I had less time for browsing and quickly selected books at the library, I would read what I had and then go back and read in order those that I really liked. Sometimes I’ve read out of order and had fun plugging the gaps with subsequent reading. It doesn’t seem to matter with Martha Grimes’s Richard Jury books.

    • I used to read what was in hand, then go to the beginning too. I read the Jury books in order, but not one after the other, up to about the eighth or ninth, then ran out of steam on them.

  4. tracybham says:

    Usually I start with the first book in the series, and if I like it, I read one now and then. There are times when I would like to read straight through a series, but it usually doesn’t work out. Ten or 15 years ago I would do that, sometimes even with authors that I was rereading.

    I am interested in both the series you show on the post. I have read the first three in the Rivers of London series and have Broken Homes but it has been sitting on the shelves a while.

    Recently I read a post about the first book in the Chronicles of St. Mary’s series, Just One Damned Thing After Another, and it sound very good. I don’t even remember where I saw it. I have to decide when I have time to get to that series, even just the first one.

    • You could try the story collection, Tracy. I think the books are fun, both series, and Fowler too.

      • tracybham says:

        The story collection does sound like a good idea. I forgot to say I have read several in the Bryant and May series, starting with the first one. I think I have read 5 or 6 of them. And I have a few more to read. My son likes the series and has read more of them than I have. But there are now 19 in the series!

  5. 1412064gk says:

    I got into the habit of reading a fiction series in order back in the 1960s. As Jeff Meyerson points out, if you read books out of order, sooner or later some character or detail will ruin the reading experience. I never read the academic introductions to classic novels because more often than not, the person writing the introduction includes spoilers (without warnings!) and that can ruin everything.

    I also like reading books in order to see the development of a writer from book to book.

  6. Jeff Meyerson says:

    NOTE: There is a second collection of short stories, LONG STORY SHORT (2019), with 8 more stories. I just ordered a copy.

  7. Evan Lewis says:

    I won’t read any series book (historical, sci-fi, western, etc) without starting with the first, if I can help it. Then I decide whether to move on. It was tough finding the first Saint book, but worth it, and there is a little continuity in the first few. Sometimes reading the first is all but impossible – as with W.C. Tuttle’s Hashknife Hartley. I’d need complete runs of Adventure, Argosy and Short Stories magazines. The novels – more than twenty of them – were all taken from the pulps, and published willy-nilly, often without even the original copyright dates, and sometimes with the titles changed.

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