The way publishing works these days, being dead is no impediment to being published. New books featuring established characters by dead authors are published on a regular basis. A sample list of these dead authors includes V.C. Andrews, Robert Ludlum, Robert B. Parker, and Margaret Truman. Some readers don't care who's actually writing the book as long as they're getting their "fix" with new installments in the lives of favorite series characters. Other readers refuse to try them.
I've recently read "continuations" of series by writers who were not the original creators of the characters -- characters who happen to be among the most iconic in the genre. Here's my take on them.
Jill Paton Walsh, a distinguished and award-winning writer in her own right, was asked by the estate of Dorothy L. Sayers to complete a fragment of a novel called Thrones, Dominations, and this was published in 1998. Three more novels featuring Lord Peter Whimsy and Harriet Vane have followed, with the most recent, The Late Scholar, published in June of this year. I have to say I loved this latest one, which takes Lord Peter and Harriet, alive and well in 1953, back to Oxford, the setting for Sayers' most beloved novel, Gaudy Night. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with Lord Peter and Harriet, and I hope there will be more to come.
Margery Allingham, creator of Albert Campion, is my all-time favorite crime writer, so it was with some trepidation that I approached Mr. Campion's Farewell by Mike Ripley. Based on a fragment left by Allingham's husband and collaborator, Philip Youngman Carter, and set in 1969, Mr. Campion's Farewell turned out to be thoroughly delightful. Ripley, author of numerous mysteries, is a devout fan of Margery Allingham, and he has captured the spirit and the zest of Allingham in this wonderful continuation. What was supposed to be a one-off, however, won't be, because Ripley has been asked to write at least one more. I look forward to it eagerly.
Back in 2005, I collaborated with my friend Elizabeth Foxwell on The Robert B. Parker Companion, a reference to the works of the late writer who created Spenser, the Boston-based PI. Spenser is a modern icon of the crime genre, and I was curious when I heard that Parker's wife picked Ace Atkins to continue the series. Ace has won kudos for his own work, and he is a fervent fan of Spenser. Over the summer I read Lullaby and Wonderland, his first two Spenser novels, and I have to say he has done Parker proud. He has captured the spirit of the characters, the witty dialogue, and the setting beautifully. His plots are also complex and engaging.
In September we will see The Monogram Murders hit the shelves. This is the first original Hercule Poirot novel written by someone other than Agatha Christie to be published since Curtain in 1975. British crime writer Sophie Hannah was selected by the estate. I have not read any of her own work, but I am eagerly anticipating this new book. If this is a success, I wonder if the estate will find someone to write a new Miss Marple novel?
Whatever you think about authors continuing the characters of other writers, I have to say that, in the examples I've mentioned today, the end result has been wonderfully entertaining. It's a daunting task for any writer to accept, but fortunately for readers, these particular writers have risen to the challenge and succeeded.