Beekeeping for BeginnersTo be honest: this a lightweight on my list, since it’s an e-book that’s only 61 pages long. But I’m also reading Our Mutual Friend, which clocks in at 1,362 pages, so I’ve got to create some balance.

The first book in Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell – Sherlock Holmes series, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (1994), recounts their meeting from Russell’s point of view; the Beginners e-book (2011) gives Holmes the opportunity to describe the early days of their relationship. We learn that Holmes, at fifty-four and retired, had been on the brink of committing suicide when the tall, boyish fifteen-year old stumbles into his life, her nose buried in a book. And not just any book, but Virgil’s Georgics. After assessing Mary’s remarkable intelligence and attention to detail, Holmes finds a new reason to live: to train Mary as a detective. But first he has to save the wealthy orphan from her avaricious aunt and cousin, who are intent on gaining Mary’s fortune for themselves.

Here is one of the chief pleasures in reading a series (or at least, a clever one). You’re introduced to a cast of characters you can follow from book to book, tracking their development while they encounter new challenges and adventures. There’s comfort in mixing the familiar with the new. In this instance, you get to re-visit an old story from a new perspective.

I love to find a series that’s already been around for while—if it catches my imagination, I can read book after book without having to wait, wait, wait for the next installment. After discovering such greats as Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Josephine Tey, I feasted on their series, no waiting required. I also read much of Martha Grimes, P.D. James, and the first few volumes of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series that way, only finding them years after they’d made their initial splashes. Still have to do the same for Ruth Rendell’s Wexford; I’ve read a lot of stand-alone Rendell—and Barbara Vine, her pseudonym—but only one or two Wexfords.

Long live the long-lived series!