July 14, 2011

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Getting To Know You Getting to know you<br/> Lynne Patrick<br/> <br/> First of all, thank you to the kind, generous and technologically literate person who sorted out the glitch on my last week’s post. (Jeff C, if it was you, you’re a star. In fact, whoever you are, you’re a star.) I can’t promise it won’t happen again this week, because I have no idea what I did wrong and therefore no idea what to do/not to do to prevent it; all I did was exactly the same as almost every week for the past four and a quarter years.<br/> And so to the business of the week. It’s been one of those weeks when a lot of brain-racking has taken place in order to find something to post about. Not that nothing’s happened; the past few days have been pretty action-packed. But not with crime-fiction-related matters; the threat to build a small housing development in the lovely green field opposite our house may be a crime, but it’s not fictional. And though it’s occupying a large portion of my mindspace, it doesn’t really qualify as a Dead Guy topic.<br/> So, from my reinvented position of voracious reader of crime fiction – the final link in the idea-to-bookshelf chain formed by my fellow bloggers (you’re all OK with me taking on that role, are you guys? Please say yes; I need to feel useful) – here are a few thoughts that came up as I indulged in my second favourite activity this week.<br/> Series. Ongoing backstory or not ongoing backstory?<br/> I have divided loyalties and mixed feelings. On the one hand, take Jack Reacher. You kind of feel he doesn’t really have a life outside the books. He drifts from one town and one adventure to the next; he has no roots, so nothing to grow from. Between books he digs swimming pools, works as a nightclub bouncer, anything to pay his motel bill. And in his case it doesn’t matter, and certainly doesn’t detract from my reading enjoyment. In fact it makes it easier. I often pick up a book at random and find I’ve begun reading a new series somewhere in the middle, then once I latch on to it, I go back to the beginning and read them in order – but I know I can pick up a Jack Reacher at any point in the sequence and just enjoy the ride.<br/> On the other hand, I love watching protagonists grow, and their lives move on. I ached for Maureen Carter’s Bev Morriss through a broken love affair, rape, family trauma, pregnancy, a burgeoning relationship with... no, read the books for yourselves... and a wealth of other character-building life crises. I cheered when Roz Southey’s Charles Patterson was finally backed into a corner by the woman he loved but dared not marry. I followed with held breath when Mark Billingham’s Tom Thorne found himself entangled in a relationship which didn’t involve a football team or a cat. And I cheered when my brilliant family tracked down every single one of the hard-to-find early titles which fill in Charlie Fox’s pre-bodyguarding history in Zoë Sharp’s action-packed series. I love that sense that my favourite series characters go on living their lives between books, and my visits to their worlds cover only a small part of those lives.<br/> Which brings me to the technical stuff. Well, story construction. Does that count as technical?<br/> In the second case, the not-Jack Reacher style of series, how much backstory does an author need to include for the benefit of readers who dive in somewhere in the middle? How much does it matter that we know how the protagonist met his/her partner in book 2, what happened to the pregnancy in book 5, who killed his/her best friend back in book 1, setting the scene for an ongoing hunt-down-and-destroy strand?<br/> A lot? A little? Not at all? Or what?<br/> What do you think?<br/>

Jeff Cohen

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