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'Heartstone' And 'A Harlot's Tale:' Some Thoughts, Not Necessarily Coherently Told

The Writer Contemplating Her Sources

I have a rough metric for evaluating a book's entertainment value. I ask myself how often I checked the page count while reading. If I was constantly checking how many pages I have read, I am reading a boring book.

The first time I checked the page number when reading 'Heartstone,' I was on page 546. This book is 626 pages long. 'A Harlot's Tale' is a more standard 308 pages long. I think I was checking the page count at 134.

What's the difference?

A Drawback With Series


The author of series of books using the same characters and generally appearing in chronological order faces some challenges that one-off books often don't. The big one is setting up future stories and building on past ones.

'A Harlot's Tale' spent lots of time setting up other stories. Actually, I assumed, with all the time spent on the main character's relatives and how they wound up where they were, that this book was the latest in a long-running series when it is only the second adventure for this character. A new adopted girl was taken in and a new nemesis was introduced. One relative dies and there is a whole subplot about the relative's death that is tacked on at the last 2 chapters, which will undoubtedly be backstory for book 3.

'Heartstone' was the third in a series, but no new characters were being introduced. If you read the earlier two books, 'Revelations' and 'Dissolution,' you know most of the folks involved. The only change in personnel is Shardlake's household help, and that is a small sub-plot that is folded into the story and resolved with a page.


You also don't want the background for the next story to come out of nowhere. Well, let me rephrase that: if you watch too many X-men movies, you may think that you have to set up the next story in your series in detail.

If you can't fold a character into your series naturally during the course of your story, you can drop them and introduce them next time with a quick paragraph about how they showed up on our hero's doorstep. Or maybe you have to explain a comment or motivation of a character by talking about an earlier story.

In that case, you have to bring up an earlier story.

Maybe I just noticed the summarizing in 'Harlot's' more because it's a new book series to me, or because 'Heartstone' is much longer so the recapping takes up proportionally less space. Both stories reused characters and introduced them each time they arrived, but one felt like less of a summary. You don't want to waste your word count on backstory when your hero is saving Catherine Parr from the machinations of oily courtiers. On the other hand, you need to explain why people are doing what they do, and that takes skill. One of these folks had that skill.

Genre Difference?

Mysteries get divided into cozies and hard-boileds, and 'Harlot's' has the hallmarks of a cozy. The hero isn't officially part of law enforcement and there is a lot more time spent situating her in her family. 'Heartstone' features a lawyer as a detective, and more time is spent on clue-hunting.

This may be part of the problem. The recapping and set up takes more space in the cozy because of its structure- fans want more personal information about characters and the world. However, cozies should not forget their main purpose: solving a mystery. The world and character dynamics shouldn't take up more word count than clue hunting.

Or maybe that's just me. I like cozies, but they sit on a spectrum and I prefer cozies that are closer to the hard-boiled side. More mystery-solving, less bonding. But there is a point where the mystery feels like it is merely tacked on to decorate a story, and that's a little misleading. There should be a more accurate way of marketing these.


As an aside, a summary of the last adventure in your current book is a drag. It stops all the excitement to tell about that thing that happened some other time. If you read the earlier book, you're bored with the recap. If you haven't, you start thinking that perhaps that last book was just as dull and dumb as this one since the writer felt the urge to drop this tale for something else.


More mystery solving, less setting up future stories, please.

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