A series in which every book has a new main protagonist and a new story line, and the only link between the novels is a recurring character who is in every novel. But none of the stories is ever about that recurring character or told from their viewpoint.
I don’t think there’s a formal name; they’d be a series. An example from radio was “The Whistler,” who narrated the events.
I was able to answer this since I know many things, because I walk by night.
Sounds a bit like Burroughs’ Barsoom series. All in the same setting, different protagonists, sometimes a cameo appearance of a character from another book. I remember reading once that the series was something of a gamble for Burroughs, whose previous series (the Tarzan books) had all featured Tarzan.
“Shared universe”? I got nothing.
But you’ve reminded me of a short-lived TV series on FOX back in the 1990s called, “Tribeca”. Every episode was a story with different characters, and the only consistent thing from one episode to the next was the owner of a restaurant. He somehow came in contact with the main characters in each story.
I really enjoyed that show — the stories in each episode were great. But, sadly, I seemed to be in the minority, and the show was cancelled mid-season.
“Shared universe / shared setting” could apply. Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon and Baroque Cycle do this. One recurring character, a few others who are related. I don’t recall him ever using any special term, and he strikes me as a guy who’d use the special term if there was one.
Stephen Sondheim-George Furth’s Company. Until the 2006 revival, when Bobby became the lead he always should have been.
Lumpy, can you give an actual example of such a series?
Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad books are like this, each book features a different detective investigating a crime, and the lead detectives from previous books are vaguely in the background as minor characters.
Talbot Mundy wrote much the same way. He had characters who recurred – Jim Grim, Ayisha, Hira Singh, Ommony, King – and many of the books are linked to others. But none of his books depends on any other, so you can read them in any order.
(Late in his writing career, he wrote a mélange adventure, where about nine of his major characters all came together and went on a mission. It was, frankly, a weak effort, and far too cluttered. Imagine a novel with James Bond, and Napoleon Solo, and Matt Helm, and four or five others! Way too crowded!)
I adore the man. If you find yourself interested, look in Project Gutenberg, but supplement this with Project Gutenberg, Australia, as they have several books that the U.S. site doesn’t.
At first I’m thinking the Phantom “Ghost who walks”, which lead to the phantom (Charles S. P. Jenkins) or perhaps the Shadow (“Who knows what evil lurks”. Then I’m thinking Rider Haggard, or Crane Wilbur (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer), but in the end…
…I’ve got nothing
Incidentally, I loved “Murder Most Horrid”, Dawn French, Television, in which she was the recurring actor – as murderer or victim. Fun/Inovative change from the tired detective trope.
The short stories of Damon Runyan might count. Each story features a different set of characters, except for the nameless narrator, who is a bystander with little direct involvement.
I would call that a Shared Universe but with a hook. If it were a TV show it would just be an Anthology series with a hook (like The Hitchhiker on HBO). I could think a couple of TV shows that fit but no Book series.
Sounds like the web series, High Maintenance: High Maintenance - Wikipedia
I haven’t seen it, but have heard good things so it is on my radar. The Guy is a dealer; he is the common element, but each ep is focused on the Buyer(s) whom he encounters on his weed runs.
They refer to it as a “web series” - duh, but in no way helpful here. The Guy is referred to as “the reference point” vs. “the protagonist”…it is also described as “a series of vignettes”…again, not all that helpful.
I don’t think that’s the sort of thing the OP is looking for, as he specifies that there’s only one recurring character and that this character is never the main character or narrator.
Like Exapno Mapcase, I think it would be nice if Lumpy could give us some examples of this type of series, because I’m not sure I’ve ever even heard of a one that meets his criteria.
Discworld comes sort of close, but some books have the same main character, and there’s no single character who appears in all of them (DEATH is missing from The Wee Free Men, and besides he has a few where he’s the main character).
Sorta like how George Smiley pops up in all (most?) of John Le Carre’s spy novels. But he does have a few he is the protagonist of as well.
I thought of C.M.O.T. Dibbler in the Discworld series. He’s not in everyone but he’s in a lot, either him or a clone or forefather, etc. That might be close to the OP.
Technically, the Great A’Tuin is in every book.
“Shared universe” implies multiple authors. The OP didn’t say anything about whether or not the books in the series are by the same author.
I can’t think of any literary examples of such a series. The only thing I can think of is the old TV drama The Millionaire, about an eccentric millionaire named John Beresford Tipton who, each week, gave a million tax-free dollars to a randomly selected individual, on the condition that they never reveal to anyone where they got it. Each episode focused on a different recipient and how the sudden wealth affected their lives. But Tipton himself was never the subject of any episode, and no story was ever told from his point of view.
Kurt Busiek’s comic book series, Astro City, might also qualify. It’s a superhero series, but for the most part, it’s told from the viewpoints of assorted citizens of the city, not from the heroes’ POV.
The first three Barsoom books featured John Carter and Dejah Thoris, while the remainder of the books focused on friends and family of the Carter-Thoris’s.
While most of the Tarzan books featured Tarzan, the series eventually started to feature other characters.