09 February 2016

No, Please Don't Go ... When Series End

by Barb Goffman

While I love a good stand-alone novel, like many people, I adore a good series. I love finding characters who come to feel like family, a town that feels like home. I love the comfort of returning year after year to a new book in the series (though sometimes the books come more or less frequently--Julia Spencer Fleming, write faster!).

Alas, with every good series, readers are forced to face The End. Sometimes authors die. Sometimes series end because the author has decided she's written those characters' final tale. Sometimes an author is willing to write more books in the series, but her publisher has pulled the plug.

I am not good with facing The End. And that is why, if you look at  my bookcases filled with yet-to-be-read novels, you will find the final book or final series book by several authors. I love each series, and I long to read these books, but I can't bear to read them knowing that would be it. The End. There would be no more. I would rather have the books sit unread, a promise of delight waiting for me, even though I may not ever crack open the spines. It's like knowing old friends are still out there.
Just some of my unread books


But now, thanks to the rise of self-publishing, my dilemma may partly be solved. Once upon a time, if a publisher dropped an author or series, that was it. It was rare another publisher would pick up the series. But now, those authors can write new books, hire an independent editor, a graphic artist, a proofreader, and get those new books out to their adoring fans. Like Sleeping Beauty once kissed, those series rise from dormancy, alive once more!

You might think the same possibility wouldn't exist for authors who have actually died, but you'd be wrong. Today several series originally written by authors who have passed on are continuing, written by a family member or authors chosen by the deceased's family to continue the legacy. John Clement is continuing the pet-sitter series that his mother, Blaize, began. Felix Francis is continuing the horse-racing series that his father, Dick, created. Reed Farrel Coleman is continuing the Jesse Stone series begun by the late Robert Parker. And there are lots more examples. Do the new books capture the same feeling, the same essence, as the ones written by the original author? Is reading these new books still like going home? Each reader has to decide for himself. But it's a chance for each series to continue, and that's wonderful.

So maybe one day I will crack the spine of Blood Knot, the third novel in S.W. Hubbard's Adirondack-based mystery series. The author has self-published a fourth book comprised of three short stories in the series. Is there another novel on the horizon, too? I hope so.

And maybe one day I'll read the final few books by author Barbara Parker. But maybe not. The author died in 2009, and it doesn't appear her family will have her series continued. So I will let those books sit on my shelf, particularly Suspicion of Rage, the final book in Parker's Suspicion series featuring attorney Gail Connor. I like knowing the character still has a chance to live on in another tale I haven't read, that a promise of delight still awaits me.

Do you have favorite series that have ended? I'd love to hear about them. If the authors are living, maybe we can persuade them to bring those characters back to life.

32 comments:

Susan Sundwall said...

Barb, I understand your dilemma. That's why I re-read. But I wait for a few years (because there are always new books to discover) then when I'm feeling the need to visit an old friend - like James Herriot - I dive in. Sure some of it is familiar, but you'd be surprised what you forget. Great post, my friend. Write on!

Dale Andrews said...

I still wish there would be one last Travis McGee novel. As I wrote in a post a year or so back, Stephen King had approached the John D. MacDonald estate with a proposed wrap-up tale but they wouldn't okay it. I'd like to see the sort of McGee send off that MacDonald might have done had he lived longer.

Sherry Harris said...

I've yet to read a series taken on by someone else. I might try one some day but how can another author possibly capture the characters the way the original author did? I finished Barbara Parker's series before she died. Sigh -- it was a great one.

Barb Goffman said...

Susan, that's not a bad idea. I'm sure I would forget a lot. Ask me about 99 percent of the books I read more than a week after I've finished them, and I likely will be unable to relay the plot. That said, I'm not a re-reader, or at least I've never been one. With so many books I want to read but have never read, I think I'd feel guilty diving in for a second read on any book.

Dale, I feel your pain. Maybe one day a last missing manuscript will be found. Stranger things have happened.

Sherry, yes, I worry about how a new author could possibly duplicate the feel that the original author created. It might work better if the original author and the succeeding author wrote together for a bit. I think John co-wrote Blaize's last book or two, which might have helped him get a good feel for his mother's style, and it might help the readers come to accept John's style as their own.

Aubrey Hamilton said...

As I have said other places, I thought Patricia Sprinkle ended the Thoroughly Southern mystery series brilliantly, leaving the characters in a good place but also keeping the door open to their return. Anne George also left her Southern Sisters well wrapped up, but she was ill and I think she knew she would not be able to carry them further. The series left hanging in mid-arc are the worst for the reader. I appreciate the attempts to continue a series, even though duplicating the original is not possible. I read every new Lord Peter Wimsey produced by Jill Paton Walsh because I love the characters so much. I know other people have a different reaction to continued series. The reaction to Sophie Hannah writing a new Hercule Poirot story was quite strong. I saw it as a kind of homage but my book group disagreed.

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Shirley said...

I miss Barbara Parker, Jill McGown, and Lilian Jackson Braun, authors gone but not forgotten.

Karen Kijewski had a great series that I really enjoyed. She stopped writing for some reason. Would love to see more in this series.

Glad to know I'm not the only one to miss writers and their series!

Eve Fisher said...

I've read the Jill Paton Walsh sequels to Dorothy L. Sayers' Peter Wimsey, and I've enjoyed them. I still prefer the original ones, but...
On the other hand, I don't find the Robert Parker continuations compelling (but that's just me...)
The two series I miss the most are Tony Hillerman Leaphorn & Chee series (and no, I have not read his daughter's continuation of it) and Margaret Frazer's Dame Frevisse series.

Ritter Ames said...

I reread series a lot--case in point is all the series by Elizabeth Peters, but especially the Amelia Peabody series. However, I've had the third book in Stieg Larsson novels simply because I know it's the last one, but shouldn't be. Knowing he'd planned more makes me want to hold onto the third in kind of a Shroedinger idea that if I don't finish the third book the series might still live on.

Tonette Joyce said...

It's happened, but I'm drawing a blank except for the one my grandson keeps harping on:The Chronicles of Egg, by Geoff Rodkey, who is a well-known screenwriter, (Daddy Daycare, Good Luck Charlie). I have no idea why he only made it a trilogy and why it was not more popular.My grandson and I read many books/series together and we miss the characters.
Rodkey has moved on to another YA series, The Tapper Twins, which is more light-hearted and is doing better.Too bad. We'd like to have carried on with Eggbert and his people.

Dru said...

If I know ahead of times that a series is ending, I'm okay with that. It's the ones I don't know that makes me sad. As long as the author has the rights to the character, then they can self-pub more stories themselves.


Dru Ann

Lourdes Venard said...

I still haven't watched the final Morse film because I didn't want to see his death!

Sheila Connolly said...

I hate it when the publisher axes a beloved series because it just didn't sell well enough. Okay, they're the ones who decide exactly what "well enough" is. But selling books should not be dictated solely by economic decisions. If it's the author's decision--if he or she decides the characters have nothing left to say--then at least write a wrap-up book for your faithful readers.

Anonymous said...

I miss (oh so much!) the book series written by Tony Hillerman and Patrick O'Brian. Of course, Hillerman lost Joe Leaphorn (I still can't figure out how that dastardly thing happened), but Jim Chee kept it going. Aubrey and Maturin, though... sigh.

Eve Fisher said...

Oh, I love, love, love Aubrey and Maturin, and can re-read those books over and over again! Wonderful stuff.... A little Boccherini? String Quartet in C?

Anonymous said...

I cried a bit when I got to the last Mrs. Pollifax book, like losing a beloved relative. That series was brilliant right to the end!
I appreciate that Margaret Maron brought Judge Deborah Knott's saga to a satisfying resolution (as opposed to some cliffhanger endings by writers I will not name here).
I've liked John Clement's continuation of the Catsitter books, true to the earlier works but adding fresh new aspects as well.
I'm intrigued by your technique of shelving of the last book or a series, aging like fine wine, though I don't think I'd have the willpower to do it. I'm more likely to wait a few years and reread, or at least intend to.
Truth is, good writers are adding to the TBR mountain faster than I can read, so while I mourn the end, especially an untimely, unfinished end, I know I'll never be stranded sans a good book.

Diane Garland said...

I love to re-read books and series. I have many books in my TBR pile, but visiting with an old friend is such a nice way to pass an evening.

Debora Geary wrote her witch series and ended it due to personal reasons. I totally understood, but hated to see them go. The ones I hate to see end are those that are cut by a publisher or death. I need closure people! Having a series end when I'm all geared up for the next one is so difficult. It leaves you wondering what could have been.

Leigh Lundin said...

This is a truly poignant article and yes, I’ve hated to see series end, although I have to read the last even if it’s like laying a loved one in a coffin. I rarely (like almost never) like series picked up by other authors.

I’ve been a major reader of Lindsey Davis, author of the Falco series. Shortly after her husband died, she brought the 20+ Falco novels to a close by springboarding a new series featuring his daughter, Flavia Albia. I don’t find Flavia as entertaining as Falco, but it’s still like getting a postcard from home.

Robert Lopresti said...

The three series I felt that way about the most were Nero Wolfe, 87th Precinct, and Robert Campbell's Jimmy Flannery. Stout gave the Wolfe series a great ending, but the other two... I really wanted to know how Jimmy's career turned out, and Fat Ollie Weeks was turning into one of the most interesting characters in mystery fiction. Ah well.

Leigh Lundin said...

Lourdes, I almost wish I hadn’t watched the last Morse, although I wouldn’t have been happy if I hadn’t seen it. But good God, nobody can do stark and depressing like the British.

Ritter Ames mentioned the Peabody/Ramses series, which came to my mind also. I became so caught up in one novel (circa WW-I), I found myself threatening the crew, mumbling “This had better turn out the way I want it to.” (And it did.)

Barb Goffman said...

So wonderful to see so many people responding today.

Aubrey, I agree, it's terrible when a series ends mid-arc. What was planned? What's supposed to happen? It's sort of like a death that comes unexpectedly. All death is terrible, but when you have the chance to prepare for a loved one's loss, it somehow can be a bit easier. (Dru Ann, I think this was your point, and I agree.)

Shirley, wasn't Barbara Parker wonderful? She was the author who inspired me to write my first mystery.

Eve, I've heard really good things about Anne Hillerman's take on her father's series, but like you, I haven't yet read any of them. Anonymous, have you tried Anne Hillerman's books?

Ritter, the analogy to Schrodinger's cat is perfect. If I don't read the last book in the series, the characters can still be considered alive, just waiting for me. Lourdes, I think you would agree with this.

Tonette, it can be hard when an author finds more success with another series than the one you favor. You made me think of Chris Grabenstein, who has found so much success with his middle-grade books and the books he writes with James Patterson. It's wonderful for him, but that success has kept him from writing any more John Ceepak books, my favorites. Sigh.

Sheila and Diane, yes, if the author has the ability, write a wrap-up book for the fans who have stuck with you. Give them some closure.

And Eve, Mary, and Diane, it's nice that you can reread books and get as much pleasure out of them as the first time. Maybe I could as well. I haven't tried. That pile of unread books is, as you said Mary, ever growing.

Barb Goffman said...

Like getting a postcard from home. Leigh, that's so lovely.

And Rob, yes, "ah well" is about the best you can do when a series stops prematurely, except ... hunting the author down, tying him up, and demanding he tell you what's supposed to happen next. Not that I would ever do that. Nope. Not me. (This doesn't work on authors who have died. FYI.)

Mark Baker said...

I was coming here to mention Mrs. Pollifax as well. Such an incredibly fun series right up until the end. I keep thinking about our world today and wondering what Mrs. Pollifax would be doing in it.

And I have to second your comment about Ceepak. I loved those books and the character growth we saw in both leads. I keep hoping some day he'll give us another one.

Radine Trees Nehring said...

I re-read too, but might still welcome someone's attempt to mimic Anne George's "Southern Sisters" mysteries. I could be tolerant of subtle differences in that case. My husband and I both loved her novels. I have read "continuings" by others and, especially when changes are consciously made, have found them dissonant. Anne Hillerman's continuing of her father's Navajo series being a prime example. I don't plan to continue reading her books. Another instance of what I am uncomfortable with are the multiple continuings of Sherlock Holmes stories. I know many enjoy them as fully as Conan Doyle's work, but somehow, I don't.

Melodie Campbell said...

Barbara, I am just about to write a blog: When to end a series. I'm getting bugged by a few fans to write book 4 of the Rowena Through the Wall trilogy. And I am struggling with how long to keep The Goddaughter books going (Publisher says five will be out a year from now.)
There is always the worry of jumping the shark. Does one finish it when the series is strong? Or do you write it until people are saying, like they do of Evanovich, "it isn't funny anymore. Same ole Same ole."

Barb Goffman said...

Mark, your comment makes me think about how long a break an author could take before bringing back a successful series, to let the fans know how the characters are doing. It could be a long time, I think. Consider the X-Files reboot going on right now. The decade-long break seems to have done wonders for the actors and writers, and the fans are ready for more after such a long hiatus too. Of course, in the case of a character like Mrs. Pollifax, whose creator has died, the family would to find someone who could really replicate the original author's style and vision. As we see from others' comments, that can be a tricky proposition. (I'm sorry, Radine, that you haven't found any authors who have successfully continued the series you love.)

But getting back to Mark's comment, Chris Grabenstein is alive and well and easily could do a reboot after a hiatus. So, Chris, if you're reading this, your Ceepak fans are willing to wait however long we have to for more John and Danny. But please don't make us wait too long. :)

Melodie, I think only the author can know when a character's story is done. Trust your gut. But do make sure your final series book brings closure if you can, for the fans. And if you're not sure if you should hang it up, take a year off before writing the next book in the series. Write something else--a stand-alone, the first of another series, perhaps. When you ultimately return to writing the next one in the original series, I think the break will enable you to tell if your batteries are charged and you're ready to keep the series going for a while or if this book should be the series' swan song.

Anonymous said...

Hi Barb. Late reply to your question so I don't know if you will even see it. But no, I have not read Anne Hillerman and it's because one of the most important things about her father's work is that he really understood the cultures he wrote about. My Dine friends adore him, for instance. And in the first major review of his daughter's first book, "Spider Woman's Daughter," the Native woman detective has a conversation with Jim Chee that was quoted this way:

"Described in Bernie’s voice, [Spider Woman is] “the one my mother always joked about when she had to redo a section of a rug. Mama told me she helps with life’s unexpected complications, untangling messy situations.”

According to Chee: “You’re just like her [. . . working] on a case, bit by bit, line by line, and you keep going until you figure out what’s what. Spider Woman’s daughter, weaving together the threads of the crime.”
(from http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/spider-womans-daughter-leaphorn-and-chee#sthash.e3WvwLsw.dpuf)

That's simply not right in a number of ways, as best I know (even though I am a member of a different Native nation). I can't imagine Tony Hillerman would ever have made that set of fundamental errors in understanding and representing a culture. But those people would never say those things or even think them. So I have not had the heart to even pick her books up.

Barb Goffman said...

Wow. Well, at least you have so many other books to choose from. At this point, I have more books I want to read than I'll likely ever have time to read. Sigh.

Suz E Q said...

Actually I read Tony Hillerman for years but stopped several years ago because his books no longer held my interest & was not liking how simpering Robert B. Parker had allowed the Spenser books to become. I like that Ms. Hillerman has the ability to move the story along again & that the author now doing the Spenser series has returned the characters to something closer to how Parker depicted them originally. Then, & now again you understand that Hawk is not pretending to be a bit ruthless and Spenser too is a dangerous man. I really want Anne George's Southern Sisters series to be continued too.