This is the last week of the February 2nd Book series. Next week, as we begin March, I will start a series of food books. For April, I'm considering romance novels - I'd love for you to suggest romance novels for me to read. Or, baring that, name 4 unique sub-genres of romance.
This week, we're looking at the second book in an ongoing series. Specifically, we're looking at the second book in P.J. Tracy's Monkeewrench series, Live Bait.
What do I mean by an ongoing series? What makes this series different from last week's series? After all, the Rot and Ruin books started as a trilogy, and then there were four books, and then five, and then interstitial books, and so on... So, Tracy's* Monkeewrench series; how is that different? I think the key difference is that Maberry had (or has) a defined end point to his series. It's possible that the end point is perpetually disappearing into the distance - not unlike, say, George Martin's Song of Fire and Ice, for instance - but there IS a defined point at which the story is done. By contrast, Monkeewrench (and, really, this is true of most mystery novel series, I think) has no defined end. Grace McBride, Detective Magozzi, and the rest of the team will keep tracking down serial killers until Tracy, her publisher, or her readers, get tired of the conceit. And that's perfectly fine. That being said, I think that the second book in such a series has a surprising amount of weight to bear as a result. The first book, obviously, stands alone. Bad guys do bad things, and good guys stop them, the story has a clear beginning, middle, and end. But, if the first book does well (and, naturally, we assume that the first book does well), then a second book follows. The second book must have a clear beginning, middle, and end. It must have different bad guys doing bad things, and the good guys have to stop them, but in a different (but related!) way from the first book. The book has to stand on its own - what if the reader missed the first book? What if libraries gave it a pass, but picked up book two on the strength of the reviews for book one? - but it must ALSO reward readers of book one with hooks back into the first story line AND also also point towards a potential third (and subsequent) books. That's a lot of pressure! "But Mike," you say, "that's true of the second book in a classic trilogy too! And of whatever Rot and Ruin is. And, really, any book 2 which might have, at some point, a book 3!" And that's a fair statement too - but I think there's an additional pressure here, because this book two absolutely has to stand on its own. Book three can dangle some serious loose ends if the author so desires, but book two might well be the only book in the series that a reader picks up - if they missed book one, and if book three never gets published - so I think there is a unique pressure on a book in this position in an ongoing series.
So, how does Live Bait stand up to that pressure? Pretty well, I think. First off, these are a series of fantastic police procedurals, which is to say that they are awful, dreadful books, which I love. Lots of grit and a fair bit of gore, serial killers with dubious motives, and hard working detectives who solve crimes by asking tough questions, and with the support of computer experts who don't mind bending the rules. Hell, they revel in bending, folding, spindling, and mutilating the rules. The same two detectives seem to solve all of the big serial killer cases in Minneapolis,** and no crime could ever be solved ever without the assistance of Monkeewrench and their unique computer skills. My willing suspension to disbelieve is highly trained, though, and I just love these sorts of books. That probably says something deeply disturbing about my psyche, but it's true. So, if you like pulpy crime novels with quirky (VERY quirky) characters, twisty motives, lots of blind endings, moody cops, and graphic descriptions of Minneapolis weather, you'll like these books. Oh, also, doomed romance, and musings about why a policeman's lot is not a happy one. And, if you want, you can start here with Live Bait, but the first book (Monkeewrench) is good too.
*Actually, P.J. Tracy is a duo, Patricia and Traci Lambrecht.
** Between Tracy and John Sandford, I'm pretty convinces that Minneapolis/St. Paul is ground zero for serial killers in the US...