Column — Find your new favorite book series

Published 10:00 am Friday, December 3, 2021

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If you ask any reader who their favorite literary character is, their answers will probably include Jane Eyre, Jo March or Huckleberry Finn. But you may also hear Jack Reacher, Stephanie Plum or Virgil Flowers. These characters inhabit some of the most popular series fiction being read today.

Series fiction carries the same character(s) and/or locations across several books, expanding the arc of plot and character development with each new installation. One very successful author in the series genre is Jonathan Kellerman, whose characters, child psychologist Alex Delaware and police lieutenant Milo Sturgis, investigate crimes in Los Angeles. I’ve been reading these books since high school and look forward to each new title almost as if waiting for a visit from old friends.

James Patterson is also a highly successful writer in this field, with Alex Cross, the Women’s Murder Club and the NYPD series being some of his most popular. Michael Connelly, Janet Evanovich and Clive Cussler are some of the other big-name authors writing series fiction.

While it’s easy to focus on the more popular writers, there are several book series that I think may have been overlooked but offer a very satisfying reading experience. I’m a fan of medieval mysteries.  I enjoy seeing characters solve a crime using ingenuity and cleverness, rather than relying on a lot of gadgets or technology and I also enjoy discovering new details about that time period. Some of the best titles in this genre are the Joanna Stafford books by Nancy Bilyeau. Joanna is a Dominican nun during the Tudor era in England and in addition to her novitiate duties, she is a crime solver while trying to navigate the political landscape of that era. Bilyeu does an excellent job of creating a strong female protagonist without imposing modern sensibilities that would not chime with the social mores of that era. There are three books so far and I’m keeping my fingers crossed there’ll be another one soon! One other standout in this genre is the Giordano Bruno mysteries by S. J. Parris. Bruno is a well-known historical figure and these mysteries highlight his curious nature and devotion to science. Set during the Inquisition, these books are fast-paced with well-developed plots and a highly intelligent main character.

Moving forward to a contemporary setting, Jane Smiley’s American Trilogy is technically not a series but the three-volume epic about the Landgdon family spans 100 years, from 1920-2020, and is one of the best family sagas I’ve read. Smiley won the Pulitzer Prize for A Thousand Acres and typically writes stand-alone fiction, so this was a bit of a departure for her. She handily juggles several generations worth of characters and shows how an “ordinary” American family can be extraordinary in their own way.

I don’t have the space to write about all the other wonderful series fiction available, so if you normally read stand-alone fiction, consider trying a title in the series genre and you may just find your new favorite character!

Holly Howze is the branch manager for the Ripberger Public Library located in Kenbridge. She can be reached at