Get Blog Posts Via Email

View RSS Feed


The March 30/April 4 combined double issue of Newsweek has an opinion piece by Susan Cheever entitled “Please Stop Writing!”

I can totally identify with her opening sentence, “Mysteries are my weakness.” Me too, Ms. Cheever.  Sometimes I’m a bit embarrassed when checking out books at my local library–I’ll have three or four mysteries novels in one hand and a couple of mysteries on cds in the other.  I want to say to the librarians, all of whom I know quite well, “I do read other things, you know.”  I’ve even thought about taking out Plato’s Republic or Carl Sandburg’s Lincoln biographies to impress them, but I know I’d return those books unread.

Ms. Cheever’s point is that after a number of mysteries in a series, which she arbitrarily notes as eight, authors tend to run out of ideas.  Or the ideas they have are not so very good any longer.

I’m not sure that there should be an arbitrary number at which an author must automatically stop writing about a specific character, but I do agree that as time goes by it apparently gets more difficult to write new situations for the protagonist.  This relates to a previous About Marilyn column (November 4, 2010), “How To Get Rid of An Unwanted Love Interest.”   A detective meets and falls in love with a beautiful woman (as I noted in that column, this is almost always a male issue).  They begin a relationship, or even get married, and after a number of books the author feels the need for a new romantic interest.  So he/she bumps the woman off.  There is much sobbing, gnashing of teeth, grief, but the detective is free to find another woman and begin all over again.

So there the author has recognized that the detective’s romance is in need of updating to keep the series fresh. But that same author doesn’t see the same problem with his hero.  The hero, as Ms. Cheever says, may also be past his sell-by date, but he keeps on solving crimes.  Although I was a huge Robert B. Parker fan from the beginning, I feel that after Looking for Rachel Wallace, Spenser was finished.  All the clever repartee had been said, and in spite of myself I kept visualizing a 70-plus Spenser saying his naughty words to a 60-plus Susan Silverman.  It just didn’t work for me.

So although I doubt many mystery writers are sitting home, breathlessly awaiting my latest About Marilyn column, just in case one is….Think hard about whether your hero/heroine may be ready to be retired. That doesn’t mean you need to retire; there’s always the opportunity to write a new series with a lead character totally different from the one who made you famous.  It’s worth a try.


Leave a Reply