Last time I read a Barry Hughart novel, I theorized that the later books were darker than the first, which was one reason I liked them less (in addition to the standard plot pattern having become obvious by that point). Re-reading all three bears that out.
The last and my least favorite, Eight Skilled Gentlemen, is not only darkest—structured around a series of gruesome murders and with little in the way of interesting characters or humorous touches—but the clumsiest, with the inexplicable additional property of the cages and the character who is introduced at very nearly the last moment.
Story of the Stone still has a great deal of charm, as I said in my last reading of it, but Bridge of Birds is still by far the best of them, with recurring jokes (“What have you done with my X?!”), a wider cast of characters, and a sweeter and more joyous leap into the mythic. I’m sorry that I won’t get to see the end Hughart had in mind for the characters, but if the books were going to continue in this pattern, I don’t regret missing the books along the way.