Sunday, September 14, 2008

Switch it up - Bloody Mary

I imagine that one of the toughest things to do is to keep a series going.  It doesn't matter if it's a series of novels, series of television episodes or movie series - you have one goal, keep people wanting more.  There is a balance to keep.  On the one hand you have to keep the stories fresh and interesting.  On the other you can't change things too much, or you will alienate your readers/watchers.  This becomes a big challenge for nonconsecutive stories.  For example: if the "Friday the 13th" movie series decided to become a musical comedy/horror around the fifth installment - some of the audience may be upset.  (of course I think that's a great idea and would make a hilarious movie!  Do it!  Do it!)

There is also the dreaded Sophomore slump, a rule that says that the second outing is usually a poor relation to the first.  Sometimes the writer tries too hard to make it fresh, sometimes they try too hard to make it familiar.  Either way can make for a disappointing installment.  When I sat down with "Bloody Mary" I decided to see what author J.A. Konrath did to make this story fresh and familiar.

Right off the bat he starts with the familiar: the first chapter puts us in the mind of the killer.  The second chapter puts us back into detective Jack Daniels' mind and we get our bearings.  Old characters are introduced and some of the dilemmas take root here.  It was nice to see the humor was back, as well as the craziness that seemed to plague Jack in the first book.

What about the fresh?  Konrath does an interesting move, in which he allows the killer to be revealed and caught at about the half way point of the book.  Interesting.  Then he added a courtroom twist, in which the killer uses the fact that he had a brain tumor (which was removed after his capture), and it caused him to do the horrible deeds.  However the reader is privy to the man's twisted mind.  It is very apparent he is not "cured", in fact he is just waiting for his best opportunity to escape and track Jack and her family down.

This switch in the plot kept things interesting, and even allowed us to focus a bit on Jack's personal life, as well as the way her job starts to affect those around her.  I also enjoyed the subplot involving her partner's mid-life crisis.  

The end of the novel is the final showdown - just what we expect.  It's over the top and really pretty gruesome (the whole book seems to up the gore factor here), but it was a satisfying end to the tale.

I think Konrath did a good job keeping me off balance with his novel.  I was not expecting the murderer to be caught so quickly, and at the same time I enjoyed the subplots and supporting characters.  It was a solid follow-up and a quick read for summer.  I'll be interested to see where Konrath goes in the third book.  He's used serial killers twice and while he did switch things up a bit here, a third round of the same may be a bit much.  He's got some solid and entertaining characters here: I think it's time he pushed them a bit further and make things a little more interesting next time around.

Have you ever read a second book of a series that kept things in a good balance of Fresh and Familiar?  Have you attempted to do that same, and what obstacles did you face with the second story?  What did you think of "Bloody Mary"?

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