I love these for many reasons. First, I love the characters. Second, I love the historical detail, from Reisden's lab work on frog muscle to the Paris Flood of 1910 to the filming of early silent movies. Third, the prose is involving. Fourth, the mysteries don't fall out exactly as you expect (or as I expected). Fifth, these aren't just mysteries, they are novels, in the best sense of the word--I find a thematic richness in them that many books just don't possess. This time around, freed from wondering how the story would come out, I picked up more of that richness and appreciated it more; also, since I accidentally reread the third book before the second, I saw how large elements and important characters of the third book made small appearances in the second, which I might not have noticed had I read them again in the correct order.
If you haven't read at least the first book yet (and these should be read in order, because of the ending of The Vanished Child), do yourself a favor and stop here.
This time through, I was better able to appreciate Reisden's psychological journey as he learns and then begins to accept that he was once Richard Knight; following that more closely, I was better able to understand his relationship with Gilbert and how it evolves over the course of the three books. Having reread A Citizen of the Country before The Knowledge of Water, and seeing them post-marriage first, helped me also to comprehend more deeply his reservations in marrying Perdita and from whence they arose.
My reread of The Knowledge of Water was considerably more leisurely when I wasn't desperate to reach the end, and though I still found the parts with Leonard, the murderer, to be somewhat tedious and resolved perfunctorily, Milly Xico's plotline seemed to integrate more fully into Perdita's. I still writhe with anger at Perdita's treatment at the Conservatoire, and cheer at Milly's bucking the system however she can. The first time around I did love all the stuff about women and art and love and sex and marriage, but this time it seemed more meaningful, or perhaps it felt that way the first time and I've just forgotten. I remember being vastly impressed after the first read. Anyway, now I totally love the part where Monsieur Millais says that "art is to fail at," and am taking it to heart at the moment. This time I also noticed that poor Reisden got the shit kicked out of him more than once, and I'm afraid I found it somewhat amusing, because he can't just not remember his childhood of being horribly abused, but a crazy guy has to go after him with a knife, and give him post-traumatic symptoms, and then he has to get almost washed away by a flood.
I want more of these characters, and I'm glad I'm likely to get it. I wonder if she will write about World War One? Maybe I should just send a fangirly email and find out, or buttonhole her next time I see her at a con and see if she will tell me.