26 June 2023

Déjà Lu: I've read this book before

This post was inspired by author Carolyn J. Rose, who wrote on the mystery lovers e-list DorothyL: "Firmly in the category of things I hate is not realizing I've already read a book."

I agree that it's annoying to spend money on a book—alas, among our vanished pleasures in the electronic age is "plunking money down"—only to find that it's familiar because I already own it. Sometimes, as in Carolyn's example, I forget I've read the book until it starts to seem familiar. I've made my peace with my aging memory. I'm seriously ticked off, however, with publishers who reissue a book under an alternative title without a warning label that's accessible before purchase.

On the other hand, there are many circumstances in which I reread books deliberately. They fall into several categories.

Mystery and suspense to which I can't remember the solution In this case, failing memory is my friend. The mystery unfolds as a surprise that is as fresh the second time as it is the first. Unfortunately, my decades of mystery reading and twenty years writing crime fiction have started to work against this convenient reading trick. I can no longer forget the solution to many fictional crimes, including some fiendishly clever ones that were original in their day: Scott Turow's Presumed Innocent, Dorothy L Sayers's Unnatural Death, Josephine Tey's To Love and Be Wise, Agatha Christie's The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side, Colin Dexter's The Way Through the Woods, to name a few classics.

Comfort reads, subcategory guilty pleasures These are books I reread when I'm feeling so tired and lazy that I have to get into bed and turn my brain off, but I'm not ready to turn out the light. I inherited a complete set of Georgette Heyer's Regency romances, printed in the 1950s and now crumbling past readability, from a maiden aunt who died at 96, and they were already well worn with use. These days, Heyer is damned with faint praise as the author to read "if you like Bridgerton." In fact, you read Heyer if you liked Jane Austen and Heyer inspired a whole genre of romances and romance-laced mysteries with Regency settings, spirited heroines, and a leaven of humor. I seldom read them any more, partly because I've finally tired of the masterful heroes and partly because I know them by heart. I've also stopped rereading Patricia Wentworth's Miss Silver mysteries because I already know them line by line.

Comfort reads, subcategory old friends While I've outgrown apologizing for my guilty pleasures, there's a separate category for rereads for which no one need apologize. I've written many times about my very favorite series, Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga. After many reads, I don't need much energy to slip once again into the Vorkosigans' familiar and intriguing world. Make that worlds. Martha Wells's Murderbot series now belongs to this category. What makes such well written books comfort reads? Superb storytelling and exceptionally lovable protagonists.

Series in order In the age of Kindle, it has become easy and convenient to binge on a whole series of mystery novels, in the same way that we binge on TV series. Perhaps my favorite mystery subgenre is the police procedural with a hefty dose of the detectives' personal lives and character development. One of the best is Deborah Crombie's Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James series, now up to its nineteenth installment. I have some of the earlier books in hardcover, some in paperback, and some on Kindle, and I may have given a couple away in a burst of shelf-clearing a few years ago. I thought I'd read them all.

But after reading the new one, when I checked the titles, I found there were some gaps. A glimpse of Kincaid and James's current domestic status made me curious to remind myself how they got there. So I started over, one book at a time. Not only did it feel, as I read the books in order, as if I never really knew Kincaid and James at all, but also that I now have a deeper appreciation of what an excellent writer Deborah Crombie is. This is partly due to the fact that I gave her work a closer reading and partly to the fact that I'm an experienced mystery writer myself. I read the first ten books before I published any fiction at all. This time around, I savored each book as a mystery and as a complex novel, and I thoroughly enjoyed the series as the vehicle for Kincaid and James's story. It's a great example of the essence of a good reread: there's always something new.


  1. Georgette Heyer is among my comfort reads, along with a number of actual Victorian writers (I belong to an online Trollope group that's great). Mystery comfort reads include Dashiell Hammett, Rex Stout, Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, Donna Leon, Andrea Camilleri (the Montalbano novels, not the TV show), and Simenon's Maigret (especially the ones where Mme. Maigret is a major part of it). Yes, there is a great joy in sinking down into old friends...

  2. I'm just reading the ninth and most recent book of P.F. Chisholm's Sir Robert Carey novels. It's so illuminating to read them one right after another. For one thing, they take place in less than a year (1592-1593). I wish she'd write another!

  3. Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer are both among my comfort reads. I also re-read Gaudy Night and Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy Sayers and suspense by Mary Stewart (Touch Not the Cat, The Moonspinners). I first read them all as a teenager, and they are old friends.

  4. I've reread Gaudy Night countless times and Busman's Honeymoon not too many less. I read all the Mary Stewarts over and over when I was younger, but I'm sorry to say I'm finally beginning to outgrow their pre-feminist charm, though I still love the settings.

  5. Elizabeth Dearborn26 June, 2023 16:57

    Recently we've run across movies on free streaming services on the internet that have had their original titles changed. A couple of nights ago we watched "The Heist" starring Ryan Reynolds, David Suchet who is better known for playing Agatha Christie's detective Hercule Poirot, & no one else that I recognized. Originally the movie was called "Foolproof". It was O.K., took place in Toronto which is a city I love. One of _my_ guilty pleasures is Jason Statham, which my husband knows & he found us a renamed Statham movie to watch. I guess it's to avoid paying royalties, but I really do not know.

  6. I've always been puzzled when I hear about people watching certain movies hundreds of times, but I've recently started bingeing on a few favorite series I've seen before, and it has the same benefits as bingeing on familiar book series, in that the bigger story arc comes into its own when it's not chopped up and I can relish more of the details. I'm currently watching Nashville on Hulu at the rate of a few episodes every evening. It's a fine overview of how rapidly the music biz has changed (just like the fiction biz), and the songwriting, music, and acting are all terrific.

  7. I haven't encountered the reissue problem, but somewhere along the line I lost track of Lindsey Davis' Falco series. I definitely need to fill in gaps. As the saying goes, so many books, so little time.

    1. Leigh, in Lindsey Davis's more recent books, the sleuth is Falco's daughter, Flavia Alba. I still think the very first book, The Silver Pigs, is the best and funniest.


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>