Monday, April 19, 2010

A Murderous Procession by Ariana Franklin, or Thoughts on Series Books

Title: A Murderous Procession
Author: Ariana Franklin
Publisher: Putnam (2010)

A Murderous Procession is the latest Mistress of the Art of Death book. Mistress is one of my favorite books. I loved it the first time I read it and I've continued to re-read it and lurv on it some more. My love for that first book is probably the only reason that I'm still reading the series. I was chatting with someone the other day about how I'm not very good at keeping up with series books. It's not that I don't like series, per se, it's just that I usually lose interest. I wasn't able to quite put my finger on why that is so I tried to pay attention while reading this book so I could finally decide what it is about series that doesn't keep me interested. But first, a little about the book...

Adelia Aguilar is back and under Henry II's orders once again. She is to escort his daughter to Sicily for the princess's wedding as her doctor. As usual, she's disguised as a doctor's assistant as the world at large is none to friendly to a female doctor. The ever-faithful Mansur (her long-time protector) acts as the doctor. Her lover Rowley is part of the escort, as well, though with him being a bishop and all they've got to keep their relationship secret. Sort of. Her profession and her relationship with Rowley are starting to feel like Superman's secret identity. Seriously, how many people can you let in on a secret before it isn't really a secret anymore? Ah well, I digress. As with any story involving a forensic specialist/private eye/amateur sleuth ancillary characters begin to die. Time for some mystery solving!

Does my synopsis seem snippy and disinterested? Yeah, I know, it is - but that's how I start to feel when reading a series. So why is this? I used to think it was because the formula annoyed me but, besides the fact that pretty much every book follows some type of formula, I enjoy hard-core formula books. Same plot over and over? No problem! Same tropes over and over? No problem. Write it well and give me some characters I can enjoy and I'll probably keep coming back. So what's the big deal about a series then? Turns out that, for me, it all comes down to the characters.

I was paying close attention during A Murderous Procession and trying to pinpoint why it (and the other sequels) was so unsatisfying. I compared it to another series I've been reading lately, the Elvis Cole books by Robert Crais (thanks to Singular Points for the Crais tip), because I've had no trouble gobbling those books up like funnel cakes at the fair. And that's when the whole character business hit me. It's everything to do with the character arcs. In Mistress there are very good and very interesting character arcs for pretty much everyone. I was invested in them and I wanted to know where I was going to go with the characters (the story's bang up too, btw). But the subsequent books have either completely dropped character arcs or simply rerun previous arcs. I started thinking of all the series I've petered out on and that was pretty much what lost me. I guess I'm just not all that interested in watching the same character arc repeatedly because it doesn't feel like growth. I want to see new discoveries for old characters if they're going to be there.

I tend to also like series that focus on a new character in the same fictional setting as a previous book. The pitfall for these is that then you've got those authors that have to do the laundry list of "where are they now." I am definitely interested in where my old friends are but if it doesn't work naturally in a story then I'm not interested in what feels like an ESPN ticker update. I'm also convinced that new readers to a series don't need this either. All the back story should work naturally with the current story. If it doesn't then it's probably not needed at all. Most times you don't need all that back story to understand the current book so why produce what feels like a little time-out in the current story for the ticker?

So why are these Crais books working for me? Because Cole's character is pretty well-established at the beginning and the fun is watching him interact with the funky cast of characters around him. I'm not overly worried about his growth as a character because it's not the central theme of the books. From one book to the next I might learn something more about him but it's natural to the story and not a re-run of something I saw him go through as a character two books ago. Several books into the series there's a big jump in the depth of characterization but, again, it's natural to the stories and not repetitive. 

So, so, so, there it is. Apparently I need no character arc or a never-ending character arc. What I really can't stand is the same lessons over and over. The whole time I'm thinking, we've already been through this, why are you doing it again? Do you not remember two years ago when you went through all these same issues?

And that brings me back to A Murderous Procession. I think it's my least favorite so far of all the Mistress books. We've once again got to have some sort of snippy thing happen between Adelia and Rowley at the beginning to create some tension, then they can work it out and get back to the hoppin' horny good-luvin'/mystery solving business at hand. They'll get separated for some reason, Adelia will find herself in grave danger, etc etc. I wouldn't mind all this so much if the characters were giving me a reason to stick with them. When everything's a repeat I'd rather just go find some new characters to befriend.

Side note to the publisher: this is a BAD copy edit job. Try harder next time. Bad copy editing is like the actors in a play making eye contact, it ruins the "fourth wall."

rating: 2 of 5 stars


  1. I've been reading the first three chapters of A Murderous Procession over and over. Cannot get into the book at all, and am not sure why. I'm not sure it is the repetition, since I haven't gotten that far into the plot yet.

    Your comment about the copy editing is a little disturbing -- I'm very picky about typos in books and have complained about it a lot lately, usually in epub'd books. It seems somehow worse in a print book by a mainstream publisher.

  2. I think the plot picks up a bit several chapters in, and Franklin's research is always excellent so there are all of interesting historical details. Sometimes I save books that I can't get into but still want to read for a plane ride, nowhere else to go. :)

    In a weird sort of SBD stalking (or bonding, yeah that has a nicer ring to it:) way I thought of you while commenting on the copy editing as I've noticed the issue in your posts of late. I completely agree with you that it's super annoying. I was surprised that such a mainstream publisher with an established author did such a bad job. My copy of Mistress is an ARC and I don't remember so many errors in it!

  3. I couldn't agree more on the characterization of the Crais books. The characters continue to grow in depth. Sometimes the growth is subtle, as it almost has to be with an over-the-top character like Joe Pike, and sometimes the entire book is about character development, as with Elvis Cole in "The Forgotten Man." And along the way, Crais gives the reader a nice puzzle to solve. What could be better?

  4. I'm with Naomi on this (we are simpatico since we're Craisies). Robert Crais, who does a bit of his own culinary, layers his characters wonderfully. If you read the series in order, one really can discern this. It really pays off when you cross certain thresholds in the book line (L.A. Requiem and The Forgotten Man, as Naomi stated are a couple of these). Thanks for this.

  5. Naomi and leOpard13, thanks for stopping by! Heh, Craisies! What fun! I didn't end up reading the books in order (and I still have a few left to go) but I've actually enjoyed that. I tend to skip around according to what mood I'm in. Do I want more of Cole's jokey side? Ok, early book. Do I want to see some serious development? Ok, later book. So far I think my fave line has got to be in L.A. Requiem when Cole says, "Can you spell 'worry?'" Still the same ole Cole even in the midst of all the drama.