One pleasure I get as an editor is the ability to work on subsequent editions of an author’s book and see the author grow book by book. By “grow,” I mean the author’s writing style — communication with the reader — improves. This pleasure is rather limited in my editorial business because of the types of books I edit.
However, that same pleasure occasionally occurs in the fiction I read. Some authors improve subtly, some more dramatically, some maintain an even keel at a high level. Good examples of the latter are Vicki Tyley and Shayne Parkinson; in both cases, the writing has kept an even keel. In Tyley’s case, it is harder to discern changes because her books are not a series that revolves around a continuing group of characters; each book is a fully standalone novel — different characters, different plot twists and turns, different venues. (For a review of Tyley’s books, see On Books: Murder Down Under; for a review of Parkinson’s books, see On Books: The Promises to Keep Quartet.)
And now I can add L.J. Sellers to this “elite” group of indie authors who deliver a 5-star experience from the get-go, except that, in her books, one can see the improvement in writing style as one reads her Detective Jackson Series in order. The books in the series are, in order:
- The Sex Club
- Secrets to Die For
- Thrilled to Death
- Passions of the Dead
- Dying for Justice
The first book introduces us to the Eugene, Oregon, violent crime detective squad, with Wade Jackson as the lead character. Jackson is the choice for lead detective when the case seems particularly difficult to solve. He has the solution knack! Jackson, along with the other members of the squad, are the vehicles through which we can watch Sellers’ writing improve with each book. As Jackson grows, so grows Sellers’ communication with her readers.
Sellers humanizes her characters by giving them the attributes of everyday, ordinary people. No superheros, no supercops, no powers of deduction and reasoning that evade otherwise mere mortals and separate mortal from demigod. Jackson, for example, is in the process of divorcing an alcoholic wife and suffering from an illness that he thinks is just too much acid from too many cups of coffee, while trying to protect his teenage daughter from her mother’s alcohol addiction as well as from the usual travails of being a teenager. Lara Evans is the only female on the squad and she is having trouble finding the right soul mate, but has her eye on Jackson. Sophie Speranza is a reporter whose personal life swings between ups and downs but who is tenacious in striving not only for the story but to help Jackson. Lammers is the head honcho, who has promotion ambitions and the presence of a bull, but yet moments of kindness and understanding, as well as insight that comes from experience in a leadership role. And so it goes with each of the core crew of the series.
Sellers tries to balance reader involvement and reader standoffishness, something I discussed in Characterization: How Important is Reader Emotional Involvement? and On Books: Plot-Driven, Character-Driven, Hybrid? (Sellers’ books fit the hybrid category.) Her success in finding that balance improves with each book in the series.
Let’s get something out of the way now: Even though each book is an improvement over the previous book in terms of writing and drawing the reader into the community, each book in the Detective Jackson Series is a 5-star book. (For more on my rating system, see On Books: Indie eBooks Worth Reading (I).) Also worth noting is that the novels remind me of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct Series. If you like Ed McBain, you will like these books. Although you can read the books in any order, they really do build one on the other and so I suggest reading them in order.
The biggest complaint I have about L.J. Sellers’ Detective Jackson Series is that the author has not made the books available on Smashwords, only at the link provided and at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Finding good indie author books to read is difficult enough; finding ones that are 5-star reads is wearying. But when we find them, we need to support those authors by buying their books because 5-star indie authors are a rare treasure in the ebook age of self-publishing. Sellers’ Detective Jackson Series joins that exalted crowd — the mysteries are different, the plot twists are unusual, the characters are believable, the community semifictional in the sense that her Eugene, Oregon, could as easily be my or your hometown. Sellers has made it easy for the reader to become another partner in the violent-felony squad that Jackson leads. Jackson’s humanness is refreshing and his solving of a crime doesn’t rest on some obscure Holmesian fact — rather, how he solves the cases seems to be how real police solve real cases.
I think that Sellers intends to rise above the ordinary mystery by making her characters our next-door neighbors. Perhaps a bit more conservative than some of us, but not radical in any way; simply a part of our neighborhood. In this endeavor, she succeeds, increasingly so with each book in the series. The Detective Jackson Series joins my hall of fame for 2011; I eagerly await the next book in the series. Now, if she would only make her books more easily accessible to all readers. The lack of easy universal availability is an unnecessary drag on her books.