Writers who improve with time

Willow writes in the rec.arts.mystery group: "As we all know, some writers do not age well.  Each new book represents a decline.  The example I use most often is Patricia Cornwell, who's [sic] first five books were good and then steadily declined. The last seems to be worst than the ones before. It is nice to see a writer improve. I did not like the first Kathy Reichs book.  While we kept getting them, I put off reading, expecting a disappointment. Recently, I returned to her books starting with "Fatal Voyage" and working forward to the newer titles.  A very nice surprise, the books are steadily improving to the point where "Break No Bones" is a treat and I am looking forward to the remaining titles."

I agree on Patricia Cornwell (James Patterson is a similar example) but not on the Kathy Reichs part. Or at least, not for the first four of her books which I read and then vowed not to read any more because the plots were so tedious and uninvolving. The trouble is, I cannot know whether the later books are better unless I break my vow.

I can't think of examples of series that predictably get better with time. Some I always enjoy, eg Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch), Robert Crais (Elvis Cole), Arnaldur Indridason (Erlendur), Helene Tursten (Irene Huss), Henning Mankell (Kurt Wallender). Others vary a bit in quality, not necessarily predictably, eg Harlan Coben (Myron Bolitar), Lee Child (Jack Reacher), Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone) – but are usually pretty good.

6 thoughts on “Writers who improve with time

  1. I know he’s not a mystery writer, but I think Terry Pratchett improved significantly in his later books – so it is possible!
    On the crime front, I feel that both Jonathan Gash and Colin Dexter improved. I’d also say that Margery Allingham (one of my favourites) got better, apart from a couple of very late books.

  2. This is a topic of great interest to me, Maxine. (My son would agree with Brian, incidentally, that Terry Pratchett gets better with time.) I think it’s interesting to look at the development of: Reginald Hill, Ian Rankin, Andrew Taylor, Peter Robinson, Val McDermid and Ann Cleeves. All of them began well, in my opinion, but nevertheless have got steadily better. As for me, I definitely want to improve with time – still working with determination on this ambition!

  3. I have not read any Michael Connelly or Robert Crais for a while but if they have got any better than they were, they must be off the scale now.

  4. You may be on to something with Arnaldur Indridason. I read Jar City/Tainted Blood some time ago and thought it quite good. Now I am reading and savoring The Draining Lake, whose title may not be the most euphonious in English but whose prose and mood are stunning.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    “Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”

  5. A couple of the authors you mention I have not read, Maxine, but on the others I am entirely with you. One thing tangential to this I would mention. The first of Tursten’s Huss books was translated by Steven T. Murray and superbly so, as one would expect. But the next two were translated by one Katarina E. Tucker, and if she translates those to come, I’d say this is a series set fair to be ruined in translation, and that is something greatly to be feared. I managed to get through the third, but I did think that if there were a fourth “In a pedagogic way, Irene said…”, or anything else along the lines of “In a cosmopolitan way, Irene led Jonny across the road…”, I might not make it. And I still do not know if I shall read any forthcoming if I see Tucker’s name attached. There is my blood pressure to think of. It is not easy to do, but I managed to find her website, and when I saw how much she had undertaken to translate in the two years since she finished her doctorate and set up shop, I had a shrewd idea as to at least part of the problem. But the thing is that with crime fiction in translation, the books will be not be consistent in quality if the translations are not, and they may not be if there is chopping and changing.

  6. I agree, Philip. I’ve just read a book translated by Bernard Scudder and at the moment am reading one translated by Marion Delargy, and what a difference a good, sympathetic translator – both in terms of the author’s intentions and of the use of language – makes.
    Peter – glad you are enjoying Draining Lake. I highly recommend Arctic Chill (next in series).

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