Ghost Writers

Death is Not the End

That whirring sound coming from the mystery section of the local cemetery these days? It might just be another dead author spinning in his grave

In the last few years, we've been subjected to an orgy of literary reincarnation, as beloved detective characters created by often equally beloved but no-longer-with-us authors are exhumed and once again forced to go through their paces, with varying degrees of success.

In a few instances, the results have been honorable and respectful; sincere and heartfelt tributes; literary debts repaid by current authors to their own personal heroes. Far too often, however, the motivation is less compelling. Often it seems to be more (or even exclusively about) the bottom line: grab a hired pen, squeeze out a book with the deceased author's name and their character in extra large type featured prominently on the cover, slip in a more discreet byline for the actual writer, and turn a quick buck while the franchise still has name value.

It's a formula that the always commercially savvy (and still living) James Patterson has milked well in the last decade or so. He didn't even wait until he was dead.

Private Eyes Who Won't Stay Dead (Even If Their Creators Are)

By the time I finish this sentence, at least one more tribute, pastiche or reimagining of the world's greatest detective will have been written.

New York private dick Lou Largo must have been pretty hot stuff in his time. When creator Ard passed away after having written just two books in the series, Lou's adventures were continued, credited to Ard, but actually written by Lawrence Block (one book) and John Jakes (three books).

Between 1986 and 1994, Robert Goldsborough wrote seven Wolfe novels, and in 2012, he began writing more.

Chandler's world-weary gumshoe has been passed around more times than a drunken co-ed at a frat party, with authors as varied as Hiber Contreris, Roger Simon, Sara Paretsky, Dick Lochte, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Robert Crais, William F. Nolan, Max Allan Collins, Benjamin Black and Robert B. Parker all taking their shots, among others.

Edgar-winner Sanders wrote seven books featuring his Miami Beach ne'er-do-well gumshoe, and after his death, his estate chose Vincent Lardo to carry on the series. Lardo ended up writing eight more.

Max Allan Collins' sincere and reverent continuation of Mickey Spillane's Hammer, was not only agreed upon and worked out between the two authors before Spillane's death, but actually built upon manuscripts and papers left behind by the late legend.

An actual heart-felt tribute, by perhaps the most fervent of Hammett's disciples, Spade and Archer, written by Joe Gores, was published in 2009.

I'll be the first to admit I was wrong about Ace Atkins' revival of Parker's beloved sleuth. What I thought would be a crass, hollow attempt to milk a cash cow turned out to be about as enthusiastic and heart-felt a tribute as could be imagined, with Atkins blowing the dust off and kicking up his heels, breathing new life into the franchise, starting with Lullaby in 2012. But Silent Night (2013), a Christmas-themed Spenser novel written by Parker's long-time agent, Helen Brann, is to be avoided at all costs.
In fact, the continuation of Parker's other series (the Jesse Stone series and the Hitch and Cole western series) been less than stellar, reaching its nadir when a Stone novel by Michael Brandman was deemed "one of the worst books of the year" by
Entertainment Weekly. Which may explain why Reed Farrel Coleman was brought in to continue that series.

When the much loved mystery author passed away, she had already made plans to ensure nobody would continue her series. She did this by killing off both Miss Marple and Belgian P.I. Hercule Poirot in final novels, and arranging to have them both published posthumously. This didn't deter the Christie estate, however -- in 2014, The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah was published.

Like Mickey Spillane, Dick Francis actually knew and approved of his literary successor -- it was his own son, Felix. Father and son collaborated on four novels, and when Dick passed away in 2010, Felix took the reins, and began writing solo. In 2013, he even brought back Francis' best-known character, jockey-turned-sleuth Sid Halley, in Refusal.

See also...

Don't be afraid of no ghosts...

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