Monday, November 12, 2007

The last days of Kay Scarpetta?

I didn't mean to bring this up on Veteran's Day, but perhaps it is appropriate. After all, today as we remember those who have served to protect our country in real life, it isn't that far a leap to look at those who work to protect us in their fictional worlds as well.

Today, I'm wondering: Is Patricia Cornwell's forensic protagonist Kay Scarpetta too far gone? Has she been hounded, wounded, pushed beyond sympathy? That's a question I was mulling as I wrote this review of the new "Book of the Dead" for the Boston Globe.

I was a huge fan of Cornwell when she started, and I still think few do the forensics – the sheer science – of murder better. But, is it time, perhaps, for a rest?

According to Entertainment Weekly, 1.5 million of these books were printed. Was that a mistake? Do people still read Cornwell? Do you?

This opens a bigger can of worms: When should a series end? Are there some series that you'd like to go on forever? Are there some that you used to love but that now deserve to be retired? What keeps you reading a series? Is it that you love the characters? And what can, ultimately, make you turn away from a long-running fiction addiction? This can be a touchy subject, I know, but it is one that we authors and readers need to consider.

THIS JUST IN! I never thought I'd say this, but THANK YOU, KIRKUS REVIEWS! In the latest (well, the Nov. 15 edition) Kirkus, their reviewer said all sorts of nice things about Cries and Whiskers, concluding by saying: "A fast-paced look at the Boston music scene and a delight for cat fanciers."
(You can click on "Kirkus" above for the full review.)

Best wishes for a peaceful, thoughtful Veteran's Day.


Linda L. Richards said...

Interesting post, Clea.

The only thing that's ever put me right off a series is reading them all in a row. And that will do it every time, no matter who it is. Read in that way, I start to see the ghost in the machine and I stop enjoying the journey. To resolve that, I no longer do it. (Reminds me of one visit to the doctor. The doctor said, "Does it hury when I do this?" I said, "Yes!" He said, "Well, I won't do that anymore then.")

Clea Simon said...

I like your doctor. WIsh I felt the same way about series. No matter how long I wait between them, if the character repeats the same stupid traits too often (usually, if it's a female character, something involving men) and doesn't learn, change, or grow, then I want to throw the book at the wall. In Scarpetta's case, she has grown and changed - but I just like her less, I guess. De gustibus non disputandum.

Thanks for responding!

caryn said...

I'm one that has long ago given up on Cornwell. I loved her books when the series started, but then they got so over the top I guess is the only way to describe it. And I got tired of her niece Lucy's role. And I got to the point that I didn't like Kay much anymore either.

Anonymous said...

I used to be a big fan of Kay Scarpetta and Patricia Cornwell. Thought her first book was just fabulous (wonder if it would be now as a reread?). But...she just lost me along the way when she got really successful actually. The books started being churned out too quickly and I think the character of Kay started acting in ways that seemed false and odd. I have gone off of several series that I used to read every offering and I've pondered why I lose interest. I keep coming back to the notion that as a writer gets more successful and begins to publish more rapidly, the stories suffer. Or maybe there are only so many stories that each character can handle.

I do love series mysteries though and it's because I love the characters and the longer the story goes on, the more we know them. I love Margaret Maron's Judge Knott books and I think that she has a way of not losing Deborah's sense of Knott-ness (understand?).

Thanks for your questions and I really am going to get your books and add them to my long, long list. I'll enjoy adding your blog to my regular read list!

Caroline said...

This is a really provocative question. What interesting for me is that what I used to love was when characters I knew would reappear in novels. Larry McMurtry had the same characters in a whole series of books and I just loved it for a long time--and then I didn't, but I think that had more to do with what the characters were doing and with the writing than with the series idea itself.

And more importantly, I SAW THAT FABULOUS KIRKUS!!! That is just wonderful!!!!

Clea Simon said...

Thanks, all, for commenting. Kay - that's an interesting question. I haven't re-read those first Scarpetta books either. I wonder if I'd like them now? Hmmm....

and thank you, Caroline! Kirkus is known for being nasty, so I was VERY happy!

Literary Feline said...

I was quite the fan of Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series, but I gave up on the series about three years ago. That isn't something I do often, give up on a series. But I couldn't take it anymore. The characters, the writing . . . it wasn't getting better and it was time for me to move on.

Often times the characters in a series feel like old friends or even family after awhile. My interest in them and their activities is what keeps me coming back to a series. That and a good story and writing, of course.

I think, Clea, that you touched on a good point in one of your comments. A series gets old fast when a character does not grow or change, learning from past mistakes, etc. I think an author's formula can also go stale after awhile, if he or she doesn't mix it up a bit. That especially makes a difference when reading series books back to back.

Great news about the positive review! I'm sure it is well deserved. :-)

Clea Simon said...

thank you, LF!

Sandra Parshall said...

I do get tired of a series after a few books, mostly because the strain of coming up with fresh stories for the same characters begins to show and becomes more and more obvious with each book. Like you, Clea, I enjoyed Cornwell's first books, but Scarpetta became increasingly tortured and strange (while remaining the most beautiful and brilliant and sexually alluring woman on the planet, of course), and the plots spiraled out of control. The niece is a real pain and so is the FBI boyfriend who mysteriously returned from the dead, but the French vampire was the breaking point for me. Enough. No more. But plenty of people still buy the books -- and then complain about how bad they are.

Clea Simon said...

wow, I guess I missed the vampire. Thanks, Sandra. Do you think you'd get sick of a series if the characters stayed human?

I'm now thinking of the Elizabeth Peter's Amelia Peabody series. I don't love them like I used to, but I still read them and enjoy them.

Clea Simon said...

oh just re-read your comment - yes, because of the strain. It is true that having one character continuously stumble into crimes becomes a bit ridiculous. Recently picked up a very fun parody of Nancy Drew (the title escapes me) that deal with this. "Confessions of a Teen Sleuth" I think?

Lab2King said...

Glad you made this post...i was looking for more opinions on Book of the Dead...i saw a trailer a few weeks ago (yeah i know a book trailer right), and it caught my eye...Any book that causes this much discussion is something im gonna get.

Lee Lofland said...

I don't get tired of a series if it's well-written and believable.

I was a fan of Cornwell's in the early days, but she lost me about half way through. I tried again with Predator. Never again. I hate to say it, but that book was awful. What a shame.

Anonymous said...

I love the Scarpetta novels. I wasn't crazy about At Risk and The Book of the Dead is written a little differently, which I thought was ok but not great. I enjoy the way the characters grow in her books and therefore, enjoy the progression.