Friday, July 25, 2008

Quarry by Susan Cummins Miller

My mother LOVES mystery series. Most of the series books that I read come from her. But she makes sure that she has the books in order and always starts with the first book. She likes to read them straight through. For her it is like reading one very long book with multiple episodes. I generally read series mysteries in order as well as they main character develops over the course of the series. Good authors often have a second mystery interwoven around the life of the protagonist that sorts itself out in the course of multiple books.
I picked up Quarry almost a year ago. I love academic stories and this one involved a graduate student ready to graduate with her dissertation: a sure bet for me. But, I have hesitated to start the book because it is not the first book in the Frankie MacFarlane, Geologist mystery series. The other day I figured what the heck. How much of a difference would it make to read a book out of order?
In this case, too much of a difference. I felt like a middle school girl who had joined a conversation already in progress. The people talking kept inserting information that had come before just to make sure to remind me that I wasn't there at the beginning. The entire conversation didn't always make complete sense because I was obviously without some prior knowledge that I needed to understand the whole story. For that reason I found Quarry somewhat irksome.
Don't get me wrong, the plot of the book is complete. There is a murder, a murder attempt, and by the end a resolution to this particular crime. But there is a fair amount of back story behind who Frankie MacFarlane is and how she got to this particular point in her life. I felt like Cummins Miller wouldn't have wanted readers to pick up this book without having read her others. In my experience a good series author will incorporate a short summary somewhere early in the book so that readers who have not read the prior books will still feel caught up enough to enjoy this story. There might be moments where total comprehension is not there, but there is no sense of not having enough information to read the book.
There is an added difficulty however. I looked into purchasing the first book in the series. It was published by a small academic publishing company. It is out of print and hard to find. Therefore, there is no realistic way for someone interested in this series to read all of the books in order.
All of that having been said, there were things about Quarry that I really enjoyed. The academic setting of the book was well replicated. The interaction between the students and their professors, the competition between faculty, the tension involved in defending a dissertation was all accurate and engaging. The criminal in this story was different enough to keep me reading. Nonetheless, don't know if I will pick up any more books by Miller. I'm not particularly into geology and I don't like the way she throws bones that are impossible to understand without having read every book about MacFarlane.

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