The competing merits of stand-alone and series crime novels is a topic of perennial interest, and I'm delighted to say that Jessica Mann is today contributing a guest blog on this very topic.
"Off the top of your head how many crime writers can you think of whose books are all stand alone? In fact, can you think of any? Because even those who started with one-offs usually move on to re-using the same characters, as HRF Keating, did when the first Inspector Ghote followed five stand-alones. Authors can be bored by their running heroes, as Christie seemed to become with Poirot. Lindsey Davis and Val McDermid both gave themselves breaks recently , each writing a one-off novels, but then returned to their series characters, in, almost by definition, “series places”.
Other writers feature not so much series as recurring places and people. One is Michael Gilbert, of whom Martin Edwards wrote , “It is a feature of this author’s work that he regularly created fresh and engaging characters who would pop up in various novels and short stories, without any one achieving dominance.” Characters, and places: having adopted Thomas Hardy’s cathedral city of Melchester in his first book, Close Quarters, he revived that scene of crime thirty years later in The Black Seraphim.
I enjoy these surprise encounters even more than meeting reliable old favorites. It was fun when Margery Allingham’s Amanda Fitton, introduced in one of the early, more light-hearted crime novels, reappeared half a dozen books later in The Fashion In Shrouds, after which she’s a fixture. Agatha Christie’s return to Hercule Poirot in her last book, Curtain, is in a different category, as she wrote the book many years earlier and put it aside for later publication.
Minor characters reappear in my own books; and some are connected by series heroines. Professor Thea Crawford, reluctant detective in The Only Security and Captive Audience, plays a small part in subsequent novels featuring her former pupil, the archaeologist Tamara Hoyland. Both of them know Dr Fidelis Berlin, introduced in A Private Inquiry, and taking a minor role in Under A Dark Sun and a major one in The Voice From The Grave.
The heroes and heroines of crime fiction often grow up (as Margery Allingham’s Albert Campion did) even reach retirement age, like Ian Rankin’s Rebus, but they usually remain vigorous and influential, as did Ngaio Marsh’s Alleyn. Very few detective heroes grow realistically old, though Ruth Rendell’s Wexford, Peter Dickinson’s Pibble and Hercule Poirot do.
And I hope the septuagenarian Fidelis is credible in my new book, Dead Woman Walking. One of its minor characters, a young Isabel Drummond, is revived forty years after her first appearance in A Charitable End. It was my first novel – so perhaps it no longer counts as a stand-alone."