Serial Killer: When to “off” a series novel.

Last week, Janet Evanovich’s most recent Stephanie Plum novel, Finger Lickin’ Fifteen, was released and I wasn’t first on line to purchase it.  In fact, it’s now 9 days later and I still haven’t picked up the book–and I saw it in my travels to Costco, Target, and Borders yesterday.


Evanovich’s ‘numbers novels’ (and more recent marketing coup of ‘between the numbers novels’) don’t hold the same reading magic for me.  I know that she tries to keep the stories fresh by introducing new characters and varied story lines but I’m just not as smitten anymore. 

The stagnating state of Stephanie’s romantic interests is a Catch-22.  If she decides between Ranger and Morelli all the sexual tension and suspense will evaporate; if she continues to waffle, Evanovich runs the risk of frustrating her readers.

Sue Grafton’s  Kinsey Milhone series  lost its luster for me a few years ago.  How long can her wonderful landlord Henry really live?  He’s well into his 80s or 90s by my count!  Will Kinsey ever settle down?  These novels are a bit more problematic because they lack strong supporting characters.  Aside from Rosie, Henry, and his siblings, Kinsey doesn’t have any real mainstays. 

Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta novels have held up reasonably well because she doesn’t pump them out with the same frequency as Evanovich.  Her books also have a number of dynamic characters who continue to grow and change, creating fresh story lines and sub-plots. 

There’s nothing inherently wrong with serial novels; I actually love to read them because I feel comfy in the protagonists’ lives.  I know their habits, their friends, and their back stories, but worry about overstaying my welcome.

It stands to reason that many serial authors are motivated by publishers and agents who strongly encourage them to ‘strike while the financial iron is hot’.  Perhaps fans would be devastated if Stephanie Plum turned in her handcuffs and pepper spray for wedded bliss and a brood of kids with Morelli.  Who am I to say? 

I don’t have any answers and just want to know what you think about serial novels.  Is there a ‘right’ time to kill them off?  If the writing is still fresh and the characters are still interesting, should the books go on to eternity? In your opinion, which serials should have been killed off long ago?  Take a ‘stab’ at this and tell me what you think!

18 responses to “Serial Killer: When to “off” a series novel.

  1. I stopped reading Grafton’s series after (I think) R. I was frustrated with her keeping Kinsey stuck in the mid-80’s.

    As for Steph – I haven’t read 14 yet. Just haven’t felt the urge to move it to the top of the TBR list. The Hubster and I have enjoyed listening to the Stephanie Plum series on summer road trips. It’s been my second time with the books and his first. The last one we listened to was 10. I’ve got 11 on the ipod for a trip later this month. I may just stop reading the books and continue with audio only. We’ll see how The Hubster and I feel when we get around to catching up with where I’ve read.

    I love series – I’m partway through more than 20 of them. But I like to see a series end and not fade into disinterest.

  2. When I saw your title to this post I immediately thought of Elizabeth George. I was a huge fan, until she included a serial killer in one of her novels (With No One as Witness). Although I have her next two novels, I’m not so tempted to pick them up. (As you may have guessed, I don’t much like mysteries with serial killers in them.) I’m not really answering your questions though, am I!

  3. The one series I’ve really got into is James Patterson and the Women’s Murder Club. I’ve read 7 of the 8 books, and I’ve already bought 8. Not unlike Evanovich, the books are cleverly numbered in the title. 1st Degree, 2nd Chance, etc. Harry Potter is the only other series of books that come to mind that I’ve read. As long as they are keeping my intrest, I don’t mind them.

  4. Well, I must admit I bought Finger Lickin’ Fifteen, but haven’t read it yet. Some series do get old, but this one hasn’t for me yet.

  5. I have to admit that some series do go on too long. I actually got board with the Kay Scarpetta ones ages ago. They start to lose their edge as more books are produced. The only two sets I have enjoyed are the Harry Potter books and the Twilight Series.

  6. As a shelver of library books, I take comfort in the hope that Grafton’s reign of terror will end at Z. Evanovich can go indefinitely 😦 I also hope Grafton doesn’t assume the mantle of number mysteries…

  7. I have to agree about Janet E. Sorry to say, that I ended around 11. And Patricia Cornwell is another author that I also stopped reading…SuziQOregon said it perfectly- I like to see a series end and not fade into disinterest… Like a athlete going out at the top of their game! Most of the series that I have finished ended in 6 or 7 books. I hated to see the end (especially Harry Potter!) but respect the author for knowing when it was time to move on!

    Great post!

  8. Oh I am so with you on this series! I stopped at #9 I think because I felt like I was reading the same book over and over again. And SHE STILL HASN’T DECIDED BETWEEN MORELLI AND RANGER? I’m glad I gave up!

    I do stick with Kinsey though because I just like her and I don’t feel overwhelmed by the number of books there. (And I do think the time is pretty compressed in the books … not too much time goes by between each novel I think so I’m not concerned Henry is still alive.)

    And I personally thought Patricia Cornwell just lost it with Hornet’s Nest and I haven’t been back to her yet.

    So, YES…I do think there is a time to end a series. When the actual story is done and there is nothing really more to say, authors should wrap it up rather than milk it for every penny they can get. I mean J.K. Rowling stopped with 7 so anyone can do it!

  9. I remember the winter I first “discovered” Sue Grafton’s series with Kinsey Milhone. I read everything that was published back-to-back and I was caught up around J, I think. I felt as though I had lost a friend! Now I’ve abandoned her – I don’t think I’ve read past O. I definitely like series but I think each book should be able to stand alone and they shouldn’t be cranked out too fast. Now I’m better about mixing things up so I don’t get burnt out, but I still miss the Kinsey from that first winter.

  10. Like many I’m a fan of series novels. As you’ve stated, I enjoy getting to know a character and then having that relationship to rely on through subsequent readings. It’s tough when a person hits that wall in a series where it’s no longer enjoyable, but I wonder if it is because the series is becoming stagnant of if it is the fact that as the reader I’m changing my expectations and taste. It’s hard to say when something should be over. Particularly if there is a segment of the audience that still enjoys it.

  11. Very good review of this subject. I’m afraid I’m still hooked on Lulu and Grandma Mazur to give up just yet. But I would like to see an end to this and other series. It makes me wonder if the author only has so many characters in her/his head and can’t think of any other story lines.

  12. Pingback: Sunday Salon : Blogging Observations and Books « The Infinite Shelf

  13. I only read series books when I know there is a definite end or when the series complete. When I was a kid I loved “The Boxcar Children” but they were easy to read and kid friendly.

    As an adult, I have my limits. I doubt that an author can keep a series first for a long time. That is why I try to limit my series reading to one that have fewer than 5 books. The only exception so far has been LA Banks Vampire Huntress Series which has 13.

  14. I think it depends on the series. For something like the Harry Potter books, there was an obvious ending. There was a pattern, it was the last year of school. But for some series, like procedural mysteries (just like procedurals on TV) they can kind of go on forever since they’re more about the mystery in each individual book as opposed to character development. And as long as they keep me entertained I’m good reading them forever. I’m on book 14 in the Brother Cadfael mystery series and it breaks my heart knowing that it will end at book 20. It could have gone on longer but the author died…

  15. I don’t think there’s been anything new in the Evanovich books in a long time. I’ll keep reading, but I don’t love them anymore. I don’t know how she can resolve the triangle at all.

    Another neverending series is the J.D. Robb/ Nora Roberts In Death series. They all follow the same outline and it gets to be predictable who-done-it. I’m still reading those too, but I’m a few books behind.

  16. i think that they can go on with a series for as long as the readers are still interested although I tend to lose interest after 7 or 8 books. I just like discovering new characters since there is so much else out there! Plus, I think that there’s something to be said for “keep them wanting more” and ending the series after only a few books.

  17. I’ve been having similar thoughts on Stephanie Plum. The books used to make me laugh out loud. Now? Not so much.

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