I just finished the seventh book in a seven book mystery series. I picked up the first because I loved the cover. Also because it had a good blurb and some good reviews and it was set in a little town in France that appealed to me, but mostly because it had a beautiful, tantalizing cover.
I bought the second book as soon as I’d finished the first, and kept going that way straight through book seven. As an author, I have to ask myself, why did I find this series so compelling?
There were several ways in which the writer didn’t follow the “rules” that writers are so often warned about.
She bounced around between points-of-view. For every book you read, there is one— or two or three or more—point-of-view characters. That’s the character through whose eyes you get the story. In a cozy, which this series was, that’s typically the amateur sleuth—the little old lady or librarian or divorcee or pet shop owner or knitting club president who can’t help but get involved and who solves the crime in the end.
Writer are always warned not to bounce around between points-of-view, and if you must have more than one point-of-view character, then change points of view between scenes, not within a scene. That’s how I do it when I write. Each of my stories is told partly from the point of view of Adam Kaminski, the hero, and also partly through the eyes of another important character. And sometimes through the eyes of the killer.
But this series jumped from one person to another to another to another all within the same scene. The writer used a striking combination of the omniscient point of view (when the reader hears all the thoughts of all the characters) and a second person point of view.
It broke the rules and it was wonderful!
Other aspects of these stories could have irritated other readers. There were some editing errors. Not little typos, but pretty major issues such as a character not speaking French in one scene then speaking French in another (I actually thought that was a clue and it proved the character was lying about himself, but it turned out just to be an error!).
So why did I love these books so much?
The characters. The juicy, crazy, emotional, fascinating, sometimes twisted, sometimes bizarre characters that populate the little town in which the stories take place.
Though I should clarify, the town itself was one of those characters. A beautifully crafted and gorgeously described town in the south of France.
Focus groups and marketing studies are clearly important, but not something I can do within my budget. Instead, I base a lot of my decisions about my books on what I like or don’t like. And this series proved a few things I kind of already knew.
I will choose a book by its cover. And I will keep reading a book because of its characters.
What do you look for in the books that keep you reading?