If I had but one series to last me the rest of my life, what would it be?
Going on the assumption that the remaining time would be "a while", I know I would pick a series with more than just two or three adventures to it. No matter how good the books are, if that character was the only one I had, I would crave a bit more variety. But this does show me the first criterion in the selection process: a decent number of books.
Next up in the decision making is likely to be substance which is a little like quantity but different enough to be its own category. It is like eating barbeque ribs; the more meat, the greater the chance of being satisfied. If quantity alone was the decider, picking the Executioner/Mack Bolan series with its 400+ books would be obvious, with the 261 Nick Carter books being a close second. Luckily, the substance value them out of the running. I will happily admit that there are several stories amongst these two that I enjoyed a great deal but re-readability (if there is such a word) is definitely not a standard their editors sought.
Some of the series I have read and included in my collection at SpyGuysAndGals were fun to read but had the consistency of cotton candy and a steady diet of such fluff would not only rot the teeth but also get very old very fast. Eliminating them from contention is an easy decision.
Also not hard to decide are the, thankfully, few series which have the consistency of molasses and move as quickly. If I was bored with them the first time, repetition is not going to improve things. But note that I did not say exciting. I do not need constant explosions and gun battles and passionate embraces to keep me reading. Interesting is what I require. Granted that half-naked women shooting their way out of an explosive situation would likely qualify as interesting to me.
I next thought about plot. A good plot is essential to a good book and a bad one will cause the reader to spend more time groaning or grimacing or thinking, are you serious? than enjoying the book. The more I considered it, however, the more than I realized that once you eliminate the incredible and the lame, whatever you still have is usually acceptable.
The basics for most spy books remain fairly consistent. If the character is an Intelligence operative, the job is to gather intelligence or establish networks which will do the gathering. If the hero works in Counter-Intelligence, the mission is to stop the other guy from doing either of these. If the protagonist is neither, the plot usually entails the person being in the wrong place at the wrong time and staying alive is often the only clear-cut goal. To me, unless the plot takes to the extremes, I am willing to go wherever the author has set the itinerary. I just want a good ride.
This brings us to the next essential factor for deciding if I would choose a series to re-read again and again: the ride. I would want a series that consistently gave me an enjoyable ride. I do not give a hoot where we are going, whether it is the frozen expanses of Antarctica or a wintry North Dakota, whether it is the blistering heat of the Sahara or the Mojave, whether it is the teeming metropolis of New York or Kuala Lampur. Take me somewhere and make it fun going there, exciting being there, and bring me home in one piece. Really, the only factor I care about in the ride, other than making sure my seat is comfortable and I have a little snack on the side, is the company I go with. A crowded vehicle is easily survivable, even for long distances, if the people you are going with are fun or friendly or interesting. If you enjoy them, a lot can be forgiven. If you do not enjoy them, most things become intolerable. Take me wherever you choose but make sure my traveling companion is someone I want to listen to or watch. Notice I did not say like for there are many a series I have enjoyed tremendously which had a main character I would never like in person but who was interesting to watch any number of paid assassins come to mind.
That pretty much sums up what I would seek in the series that would be the only one I could read.
1. Have more than a couple of books.
2. Make sure there is at least some meat on the bones.
3. Keep the journey interesting and moving along.
4. Do not let the plot stray outside the bounds of believability.
5. Have an enjoyable traveling companion.
Once I had the basic ground rules established, I could begin my process of narrowing the selection.
I would remove from consideration those series which I have graded below an A+. I know if there was meat on the bones and the plots were at least believable and the story kept moving and journey was interesting and the main character was enjoyable, I would have given it A- or higher but this is about willowing and that means saying goodbye to really good series. When just looking at the best of the best, I still have 22 series from which to choose.
Then comes taking out those series which do not have enough books to keep variety. Five seems a good number for repeatability. I would eliminate all those with less just because they do not have enough adventures to give me desired variety over a long haul. 8 of the A+ or better series has four or less books in them (so far). This leaves 14
So who is left from which to choose? Alphabetically we have:
What a selection from which to choose. Remember, of course, that these are just my grades and you can have your own groups. I am certain that each person would have one or more that would be added but I doubt if many people would look at my list and decide one or more did not belong. These are all good.
But in my scenario, it is time to pack up and I have to decide. As good as all these all are, with great regret I cut the list again until I have just five left:
Muffin is in because he is the best survivor in spy fiction. Bannerman is the greatest planner and organizer. Smiley is the very best at spy craft, bar none. Reacher is Reacher! And Modesty Blaise is someone I have been in love with for decades (who wouldn't be).
What an incredible choice to make.
I would personally go with Modesty. Anywhere. Anytime. For any reason.
Thankfully, I do not have to choose.
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