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I’m a big fan of crime series. There’s something particularly enjoyable about opening the pages of a brand new book and encountering a familiar face, a familiar world, a familiar cast of characters. Take John Rebus, for example: while Ian Rankin’s non-Rebus thrillers are perfectly well written and exciting bits of crime fiction, there’s a Rebus-shaped hole all the way through them (he’s back in Rankin’s latest, Saints of the Shadow Bible, and there’s a delicious bit in it where Rankin’s clearly spotted a way to keep him around the police: Rebus was written in real time, and was forced to retire just like real policemen).
It’s not just Rankin. There’s a tingle of anticipation when I’m about to start a new Tim Dorsey and discover what Serge A Storms has got up to now. I’m really excited about the third in Malcolm McKay’s superb Glasgow Trilogy featuring hitman Calum MacLean. I was sad to see the end of Ray Banks’ Cal Innes novels, and I’m always a bit disappointed when Michael Connelly brings out a legal thriller instead of a Harry Bosch one. But sometimes familiarity brings not delight, but disappointment.
I’ve just given up on the latest Peter Robinson book, Children of the Revolution. It’s one of his DCI Banks books, and it suffers badly from two related problems: the crime and its investigation isn’t very interesting, and the hero’s a bit of an arse. I’d noticed the arse thing in previous books – like many fictional detectives, Banks appears to be at least partly an exercise in authorial wish fulfilment: he’s the super-smart man who all the laydees want to have sexy time with because he has an awesome record collection and an interesting car – but I’m usually enjoying the ride too much to get too irritated by it. This time out the ride wasn’t much of a ride.
I suspect publishing may be rather like the music business used to be: there’s a certain timetable to follow, a treadmill of write/release/tour/write/release/tour that can mean product must be produced even if the product isn’t quite there yet. That often resulted in dreadful albums – the famous “difficult second album” written on tour about how horrible it was to be on tour – and I’m sure it’s the cause of dreadful books too. That, and the other danger of success, which is of course ego. If you’re going around the world, playing to packed rooms – rooms where people are actually paying to see you – that’s bound to mess with your head a little. “The little people lap this shit up!” the author might cry as he bashes out another bestseller.
I wonder how authors avoid it. Ian Rankin seems to have managed it – the books are still superb and he appears to remain one of the nicest, most well-liked people in publishing – and there are countless other examples, I’m sure. Any names spring to mind – and if they do, any explanation for why they didn’t go off the boil?