Not many books made the top-fifteen Publisher's Weekly best-selling list in its first few weeks of publication, but "K" is for Killer by Sue Grafton is one of them. Millions of fans of the popular Kinsey Millho
ne detective series waited eagerly for this eleventh installment of the series, making it a best-seller among the fans even before it was published and released to all the major bookstores. The early success of this book did not continue however; "K" i
s for Killer dropped out of the top-fifteen list a few months after it reached its peak position of number two (4). This ephemeral success can be contributed to the fact that "K" is for Killer is "easy-reading" literature. Like Danielle Steel's novel
Changes, which also made its way to the top-fifteen Publisher's Weekly Best-Seller list but soon dwindled away, "K" is for Killer is a kind of the literary work that readers enjoy reading but has no particular everlasting literary value. It is this kind
of best-selling novels that drops down dramatically on the best-selling list after it reaches its apex and never heard from again. It is necessary to have books like "K" is for Killer and Changes in the literary world because both books provide an aspec
t to the reader that has been often overlooked, the aspect that the readers can enjoy what they are reading.
The plots of both books are very interesting and they captivated the reader's attention from the beginning. "K" is for Killer starts ten months after Lorna Kepler's death, when Kinsey Millhone accepts Lorna'a mother Janice's request to find the true
killer. The readers are curious to find out whether Millhone is able to find the murderer of Lorna Kepler with so little clues and the fact that Santa Teresa police has given on this investigation. As the story progresses, more and more suspects are be
ing introduced and the secret life that Lorna was leading begins to reveal itself. At the end, Millhone was finally able to reveal the identity of this ruthless murderer. Besides this main plot, many subplots like the location of the missing $20,000, th
e relationship between the victim and her sisters, and the dark side of a well-known figure all strengthen the plot of the novel. Danielle Steel was able to achieve the same effect with Changes. Melanie Adams and Peter Hallam are two middle-age single p
arents on top of their respective careers trying to keep their love alive despite living hundreds of miles apart. Steele tries to depict how fate continues to bring the two characters together by creating events like Pattie Lou's heart transplant and th
e shooting of the President. Despite all the sacrifices that Melanie had to make and all the obstacles she and Peter faced along the way, the two finally overcome these difficulties and "lived happily ever after." The readers were enthralled by Changes
from the first chapter; Dr. Peter Hallam is trying to save Sally Block's life and that was his top priority. The readers care about Peter from the start because he is being presented as this handsome and caring guy who is willing to sacrifice himself f
or others. Both authors use the same strategy by creating an interesting first chapter in order to make the readers to want to continue reading. Even though Grafton's choice of words is more diverse and less repetitive than Steele's, both authors have
presented literary works that the readers will enjoy reading because of the entertaining plots in both novels.
Both novels are being labeled as "easy reading" because both failed to possess the timeless literary characteristic that classic novels like Catch-22 or The Grapes of Wrath have; this lack of literary quality can be reflected through the time both novels
spent on the top-fifteen Publisher's Weekly hardcover best-seller list. "K" is for Killer made its first appearance on the list on April 18 of 1994 at number two behind The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield. The book remained at number two for the
following week but then drops to the number three spot on May 2 behind The Celestine Prophecy and Remember Me by Mary Higgin Clark. The book continues to stay at number three until May 23 when it drops to four. The book then starts its decline to number
six and then number eight, eventually dropping out of the top fifteen list on June 20 (4). The book spent a total of nine weeks on the list and never appears on the top-fifteen list ever again. Changes by Danielle Steel had more success on the best-sel
ling list than "K" is for Killer did. It first appeared on the list on September 23 of 1983 at the number three spot. The following week it moved up to number two behind James A. Michener's novel Poland. The book continues to stay at the second positi
on until November 18 when it moved down to number four. The decline ended when the book climbed back to the number three spot on December 2. The book starts its descent down to the sixth position and to number eight the following two weeks. It remained
at number eight until April 6, 1984 when it dropped out of the top-fifteen list (3). Similar to "K" is for Killer, Changes never made another appearance on the list again. Both novels made a high debut but fail to maintain that position for a long time
; both books had their descent on the best-seller list soon after they reached their respective peaks. Unlike other novels which had a sudden increase in sales figure years after it was first published, these two novels are the type of literary best-sell
ers that readers would not particularly desire to read many years after they are published. This could be contributed to the fact that both novels lack redeeming literary value and there are so many similar types of "easy-reading" materials published. H
owever, both novels did not fade to oblivion after their absence from the best-seller list. Changes was reprinted in August of 1989 by Dell Publishing company and "K" is for Killer was reprinted by many different companies: Wheeler Publishing company in
June of 1994, Fawcett Publishing company in May of 1995, Henry Holt & Co. in September of 1995, Fawcett Publishing company again in March of 1996 and May of 1997. Despite all these editions from other publishing companies, both novels never made their wa
y back to the hardcover best-selling list or the paperback best-selling list. Because both novels lack the literary value that keeps the reader interested, they fail to sustain their respective popularity; however, both books did achieve a brief period o
f success, as reflected by their appearances on the best-selling list.
In both stories, the authors' popularity contributed to the novels' success. Before "K" is for Killer was published, Sue Grafton had written ten detective novels using the same character Kinsey Millhone. Before writing this novel, Grafton had written
"A" is for Alibi, "B" is for Burgler, "C" is for Corpse, "D" is for Deadbeat, "E" is for Evidence, "F" is for Fugitive, "G" is for Gumshoe, "H" is for Homicide, "I" is for Innocent, and "J" is for Judgement (1). Grafton has already established a large au
dience before the publication of "K" is for Killer. The fans of Kinsey Millhone understand that they are not reading a literary classic but a mystery novel that they can enjoy before they even purchase the book. This explains why "K" is for Killer debut
ed at such a high position. Besides the Kinsey Millhone fans or mystery fans, Grafton's work does not appeal to many other readers, which explains the book's decline on the best-seller list and that it never appears on the list again. Similar to Graft
on, Danielle Steel has established a large number of fans before the release of Changes because of the success of her earlier novels. Steel wrote Going Home, Passion's Promise, The Promise, Now and Forever, Season of Passion, Summer's End, The Ring, Th
e Loving, Remembrance, Palomino, To Love Again, Crossings, Once in a Lifetime, and A Perfect Stranger before writing Changes (8). Because Steel's novels are more popular among the females, Steel's novels generally stay on the best-selling list longer.
However, the only explanation why Changes fails to continue its success is that it does not have the quality that makes the readers want to read it years after its release. There are many other contemporary writers similar to Steel, for example, Anne R
ice has also achieve success writing romantic novels that attractive the female readers. Readers know what to expect from both novels based on the popularity of both authors. Both novels are best-sellers that have attained success because the readers ha
ve grown to love any work written by the respective authors.
Both novels are missing the literary quality that many other classic novels possess; this can be reflected through the reviews that both books received. The reviews that "K" is for Killer received from the critics are overall positive. The critics prai
se Grafton's writing style saying her, "lively prose propels the reader through the murky patches in a flawed by mostly engrossing story," and her ability to keep the readers in suspense, "Readers will puzzle and ponder over motive, method, and possible
perps right up until the surprising conclusion" (5). One thing the critics fail to mention is how the novel will effect the society. Joseph Heller used his novel Catch-22 to mock war and how everything in the society at the time was controlled by a cert
ain system; the readers understand what Heller is trying to convey and they relate to Heller's point of view. The readers will look back and think about what Heller was trying to state in his novel many years after they have read the novel. The only as
pect of Grafton's novel that the readers can relate to is the suspense. After they have finish reading the novel and reveal the identity of the killer, the readers really have no reason for reading the book again. This literary quality is missing in "K
" is for Killer. In most of the fan's review of Changes, readers complain about Steel's predictability in plot and characters, "what I found about Danielle Steel books that disturb me is the fact that there is a beautiful man and woman, who meet unexpe
ctedly, and fall in love, blah, blah, blah" (6). This repetitive theme of a perfect life that two lovers try to live despite all the obstacles that they face in Steel's novels are what the readers expect to read. The only aspect that the readers can re
late to is their fantasy of maybe one day they will have the perfect life like the characters in the novel. After realizing that the characters in the novel will live happily ever after, which is the ending of all Danielle Steel books, the readers have n
o particular reason to go back and read the book again. A Detroit Time writer describes Danielle Steel's novels as a "flair for spinning colorful and textured plots out of raw material?.is fun reading" (6). The review of both books help their sales figu
re because it gives the readers a hint what to expect from the novels. But anyone who would buy Sue Grafton detective novel or Danielle Steel romantic novel already knew what they will be reading before they even purchase the books. They continue to enj
oy reading these two novels despite their lack of redeeming literary value.
Not all best-selling novels will be remembered forever by the readers, but all best-selling novels must have one distinctive quality that appeals to the general public. This quality in "K" is for Killer is the mood and atmosphere Sue Grafton creates for
the readers when they are reading the novel. The readers will not stop reading until they find out who the real killer is. As for the readers of Changes, they want to read until the last chapter to find out whether the characters will "live happily eve
r after". Even though most of Danielle Steel readers already know the ending, they still want to read her novels in order to "live" or be a part of this fantasy, or dream, that Steel has created. It is these qualities that both novels possess that make
them best-selling novels; at the same time, it's these attributes that separate them from classic great novels. "K" is for Killer and Changes may be "easy-readings" that the readers will forget the books were ever published, but they play an important r
ole in the literary world because the readers enjoy reading them. Most of the books published today are similar to these two novels, "fun-readings" that bring the money to the publishing companies and the authors.
1. First edition of "K" is for Killer by Sue Grafton
2. Changes by Danielle Steele
3. Publisher's Weekly 9/23/1983 - 4/6/1984
4. Publisher's Weekly 4/18/1994 - 6/20/1994
5. Book Review Digest 1994 P. 791-792