Our book club is making a deliberate effort to read a wide variety of books this year, and we started out with a mystery. (January is always a movie, which doesn't really count.) To support me in my oddball preference of not starting a series with the first book, we choose Elizabeth George's 3rd book, Well-Schooled in Murder (Inspector Lynley). My theory on long series is that if the author can't hook me with a well-written middle book, it's probably not worth signing up for thousands of pages worth of a story.
George passes the test handily. I forgot that it wasn't the first book; all the characters were in the middle of their lives but in a good way, with enough information that I cared about where they were but didn't feel I had missed part of the story. Of course, the concentration was on the current mystery, with spot lights on each passing character as they come under the scrutiny of Our Detectives, Lynley and Havers. Although the writing tried to capture me, I found myself resisting because of the nature of the crime -- as the parent of a twelve-year-old boy, I find books about the torture and murder of twelve-year-old boys a bit hard to stomach. I handle death scenes much better if I don't over-identify. So I'll probably try some more George, but avoid the ones where she kills off my family members. Most of the club hadn't finished the book, but we managed to talk about the various forms of guilt illustrated, from the child pornography user to the woman miscarrying and blaming her childhood abortion.