Serial reading: a great way to stay in touch with your favorite heroes

By TERRY MATHEWS | News-Telegram Arts Editor

Mar. 19, 2007 - Reading is one of life’s great joys. With a book in hand, we can travel to parts unknown, solve a murder or save the world from the really bad guys, all from the comfort and safety of our favorite armchair.

Keeping up with a series is particularly satisfying because once we find a characters we like, we can follow them for a while. We can see how they handle themselves in various situations. We get to know them, warts and all. Picking up a new book in a favorite series is like having coffee with an old friend. We  know their backstory, so we can get on with their latest escapades.

There are hundreds of series to choose from. Here are a few of my favorites to check out from the library or purchase at a book store.

The Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee Navajo Series by Tony Hillerman has been around forever, and is worth a read,  even if the most recent offerings have fallen short of Hillerman’s normally high standards.

The stories follow veteran Lt. Joe Leaphorn and protégé Jim Chee as they fight the bad guys on a Navajo reservation in northwestern New Mexico.

Hillerman is an award-winning author whose careful attention to detail has won the respect of the Navajo, winning their Special Friends of the Diné award.

His first book, “The Blessing Way,” was published in 1970. His latest story is “The Shape Shifter,” released in 2006. I recommend reading the stories in order, to watch the development of the characters, but each book does stand on its own. They all have a bad guy or two and there’s a mystery to be solved, for sure, what holds the reader is the way these two characters balance their lives between the world of the white man, and the world of their ancestors. 

My particular favorites in this series are “Dance Hall of the Dead,” “A Thief of Time,” and “Sacred Clowns.” 

More great reads can be found in the Sue Grafton’s Alphabet Series, featuring Kinsey Millhone, one of the great protagonists of modern fiction. 

Set in the fictional southern California town of Santa Teresa, Grafton’s series centers around Kinsey Millhone, cop turned private investigator.

Kinsey was raised by relatives after her mother and father were killed in a car wreck when she was five.

She’s been married twice and still doesn’t have the romantic relationship thing figured out, but she won’t give up on love.

In fact, she has a huge schoolgirl crush on her landlord, 80-something Henry Pitt, a former baker who fills the holes in Kinsey’s heart and her stomach, too.

Kinsey’s one of my favorite fictional characters because she’s not perfect, she loves junk food and she cuts her hair with her cuticle scissors. She’s my kind of gal.

Again, this series is best when read from the first novel, “A is for Alibi,” published in 1983 and available in paperback, through “S is for Silence,” released in 2005. 

Kudos to Grafton for keeping her stories fresh and releasing books only when she’s ready. She must be under incredible pressure from her publisher, but so far, the quality of her writing has remained solid.

I’m also impressed that Grafton hasn’t gone “Hollywood.” 

If you’re looking for a quick, easy read, pick up something by Margaret Truman. Anything from her Murder in Washington Series is  enjoyable, focusing on crime in the the nation’s capitol. Truman, the daughter of Harry and Bess, knows her way around the D.C. beltway. So far, her stories have been set at the Library of Congress, the National Gallery of Art, the Pentagon, the National Cathedral, the Kennedy Center, the CIA, the Supreme Court, Ford’s Theater, Union Station, and the Washington Tribune, to name a few.

Her latest is “Murder at the Opera,” and it’s a page turner. Set within the high brow world of the Washington National Opera, Truman unravels the mysterious death of an up-and-coming soprano. It’s a quick read, with lots of local flavor.

Since Jan Karon quit writing the  At Home in Mitford Series, Alexander McCall Smith’s books have moved to the top of my “must read” list.

Smith’s #1 Ladies Detective Agency Series features Precious Ramotswe, the proprietor of the only female owned and operated detective agency in the African country of Botswana.

These books are certainly best when read in order, for the characters truly do develop from novel to novel. 

The first book, published in 2003, introduces Mma Ramotswe and her fledgling private detective agency. The latest offering, “Blue Shoes and Happiness,” finds Mma Ramotswe firmly established and living happily ever after with her wonderful family and her many business associates.

The eighth book in the series, “The Good Husband of Zebra Drive,” is due out next month. 

If you’re into courtroom drama, D.W. Buffa is the author to read. His stories are set in the Pacific northwest and feature Joe Antonelli, a great, gritty protagonist who gets pulled into a lot of sticky situations where a man of weaker moral fiber would buckle under the pressure.

The Buffa books need not be read in order, as they truly do stand alone. My favorites are “The Prosecution,” (2001) and “Star Witness,” (2003). A word to the wise: once started, the Buffa books are difficult to put down. 

Happy reading!

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