Past Their Expiry Date?

Private Eyes That Won't Stay Dead

"We've had it up to here with all these "continued after their death" sequels written by new authors. This latest -- an entry in Parker's beloved Jesse Stone series -- doesn't even make it to the level of pallid imitation."

-- Entertainment Weekly on Michael Brandman's Damned If You Do
(it was one of their "Worst of the Year" picks)

Dead author? No problem. No, seriously...

It's not a new phenomenom -- this notion of continuing a popular character even after his or her creator has gone off to the big sleep. One look at the mystery section in your local bookstore will quickly confirm that permanent room temperature is no impedient to one's characters once more appearing in print in completely new adventures.

Sherlock Holmes, the most obvious example, is still going strong over long after Sir Arthur took the ashes to ashes, dust to dust highway. And through the years many beloved characters have been reincarnated: some for love and some for money and most for a combination of the two, but the primary motivation, far too often, seems to be the latter. So it's nothing new.

But the rash of expired sleuths that have re-hit the mean streets, or are expected to shortly, is often disheartening for purists, usually a quick fix and/or cheap thrill for casual fans, and almost always a quick buck for publishers, literary estates and surviving family members who have their eyes set on new kitchen curtains.

My opinion? A few succeed; most fail. Turns out writing does matter, and not every writer parachuted in by some publisher with an eye on the bottom line is up to the task.

Here then, are a few private eyes who have been resurrected -- or worse, re-imagined; the good, the bad and the ugly.

The number of cases the Great One has been involved in since his creator shuffled off this mortal coil are simply too numerous to count, and have long since outnumbered the actual appearances listed in the "canon." But Doyle himself bears some of the responsibility. After all, it was he who first brought Holmes back from the dead in 1903, after tossing him over the Reichenbach Falls ten years previously in the short story "The Final Solution," in order to devote more time to his "more important" novels.

During the Second World War, Christie wrote Curtain, intended as the last case for her most popular character,, and promptly locked it away in a bank vault, to be released for publication by Christie only at the end of her life. The purpose was clear -- Christie did not want her character continued after her death. It was published shortly before her demise, and many editions billed it, right on the front cover, as "Poirot's Last Case." So imagine my surprise to see the announcement of a new Poirot novel, to be written by British author Sophie Hannah and published in September 2014, almost 40 years after Christie's death. Perhaps most galling to Christie fans, though -- beyond the slap in the face to the Grande Dame's wishes -- was that early press releases billed the book not as a "new Hercule Poirot novel, but as "the new Agathie Christie novel." Poirot may not have been the toughest dick to crack a case, but both he -- and Christie -- deserve better treatment than this.

  • Sam Spade
    Originally created by Dashiell Hammett

Hammett himself was been brought back to life several times as a fictional character, but none of his characters were ever revived, at least in print, until Hammett super-fan Joe Gores, wrote Spade and Archer, a 2009 "prequel" to The Maltese Falcon. Sure, Gores probably moved a few units, but the obvious affection and respect for Hammett and his work drips off every page.

When Robert B. Parker was chosen to complete Chandler's fragment of a novel, Poodle Springs in which Marlowe is married off, the uproar by fans and some authors was instant. How dare he? Yet, at the time, who would have been a better -- or more commercial -- choice? Anyone familiar with the work of both men knows there were few other authors qualified to handle the tricky business of marrying off Marlowe more than the man who gave us Spenser and Susan Silverman, one of the few long-term romantic relationships between a man and a woman in detective fiction. Meanwhile, a slew of other mystery writers were busy writing their own Marlowe pastiches, for a collection of short stories, and somehow escaped the public drubbing, suggesting that more than a few of the barbs tossed at Parker -- particularly by some less successful "fellow" authors -- bore more than a slight tinge of green. Both Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe: A Centennial Celebration (1988) and Poodle Springs (1989) come highly recommended. Like Gores' Spade and Archer, the respect and affection for Chandler and his hero, and the influence Chandler had on all these authors, is quite clear. These books are not so much milking a cash-cow as a form of literary payback; debts repaid, if you will.

What debts Benjamin Black will be repaying when The Black-Eyed Blonde comes out in 2014 remain to be seen.

The series was continued almost twenty years after Gardner's death in a few books written in the eighties by Thomas Chastain, who up until that time was best known as the creator of New York eye J.T. Spanner .

  • Mike Hammer
    Originally created by Mickey Spillane

  • Spenser
    Originally created by Robert B. Parker

Parker hadn't even dead for two years when it was announced with great fanfare that Ace Atkins would be continuing the series. I certainly had my doubts. While I'd enjoyed several of Atkin's previous novels, I'd never spotted anything particularly Parkerish about them. Which is why I was so pleasantly surprised -- his take on Spenser is note-perfect; as much a love letter to the character as it is a respectful continuation of one of the great characters in American detective fiction.

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Any additions or comments are welcome.

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