Some fictional detectives become so popular that we don’t want to let them go, even when the series clearly ends. And let’s be pragmatic: if a publishing company sees financial mileage in a detective, it’s natural to want to create more stories about that sleuth. The same is true of filmmakers. Authors too are not blind to the value on many levels of continuing to write about a particular detective. So it shouldn’t be surprising that publishing companies, filmmakers and authors have turned to prequels.
It makes sense, really. Fans are interested in knowing more about their beloved sleuths. There’s definitely a market out there too. And a well-written story is a well-written story.
On other hand, to a lot of fans, the stories are the stories. Prequels, especially if the author isn’t the character’s original creator, just aren’t the same as the ‘real’ stories. And it can be annoying for readers who prefer to enjoy a series in order if a prequel pops up. This really isn’t a settled question and I suppose that’s what makes it an interesting one.
At the end of its run, H.R.F. Keating wrote a prequel to his popular Ganesh Ghote series. Inspector Ghote’s First Case takes readers back to the beginning, when Bombay Police Inspector Ghote had just been promoted to that rank. In the novel, his boss Sir Rustom Engineer asks Ghote to travel from Bombay to Mahableshwar to investigate the suicide of Iris Dawkins. Her widower Robert Dawkins wants to know what drove his wife to suicide and he’s a friend of Engineer’s. So Ghote makes the trip despite the fact that his wife Protima is about to give birth to their first child. When he gets to Mahableshwar, Ghote asks routine questions about what happened. Gradually he begins to suspect that Iris Dawkins didn’t commit suicide. If she was murdered of course, the obvious questions are why and by whom? So Ghote begins the process of looking into the victim’s background and relationships to see who would have wanted to kill her and why.
Liza Marklund wrote Studio Sex (AKA Studio 69) as a prequel to her novel The Bomber. In the prequel, Annika Bengtzon has just started her career as a crime reporter. She’s working as a summer hire for Kvellspressen. When the body of a young woman is found in Stockholm’s Kronoberg Park, Bengtzon is eager to join the media ‘feeding frenzy,’ hoping that her angle on the story will give her a good chance at a full-time job. The body is identified as that of nineteen-year-old Hanna Josefin Liljeberg and at first the case seems straightforward enough as Bengtzon slowly starts to find out bits and pieces about the victim’s life. But before long Bengtzon discovers that she’s been misled about the case and that someone is trying very hard to discredit her. In the end, the case is connected to a coverup that leads to highly-placed people in the Swedish government.
Sometimes a prequel is only a prequel for those who read translated editions of a series. That’s because some series are translated out of order, as in the case of Jo Nesbø’s very popular Harry Hole series. The Bat is the first in that series, originally published in 1997. But it wasn’t translated until 2012, so for English-speaking readers, you really could call it a prequel as we get to know the Harry that came before The Redbreast. In The Bat, Hole travels to Sydney to help investigate the murder of Inger Holter, a Norwegian woman whose body’s been found in Gap Park. It shouldn’t surprise fans of this series that Hole soon makes a connection between Inger’s death and other murders. It’s an interesting example of how some of the ‘vintage Harry Hole’ trademarks have their origins.
There’ve also been hints that Arnaldur Indriðason may write a prequel to his very popular and well-regarded Inspector Erlendur series. It’ll be very interesting to see if that actually happens.
Not all prequels are written by the characters’ original creators. For instance, there’s Spade and Archer, which chronicles the meeting of Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade and Miles Archer. In this novel, Spade hangs out his shingle in San Francsico soon begins getting all sorts of clients. He’s working on a case when he happens to run into Archer, who, we learn, moved in on Spade’s girlfriend Ivy. The two of them develop an interesting partnership that turns official as the book goes on. This novel was written by Joe Gores, with the support and consent of the Hammett estate, and lots of people think it’s an excellent story.
Television and film executives have not been blind to the possibilities of prequels. Two series that have become quite popular are Endeavor and The Young Montalbano. Endeavor tells the story of the young man who would later become Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse. With Shaun Evans in the title role, the series began with five episodes that were popular enough that a second series was commissioned.
The Young Montalbano chronicles the early career of Andrea Camilleri’s popular sleuth Salvo Montalbano. Starring Michele Riondino, we learn how Montalbano got started as a cop, and we follow his first cases. The first series of The Young Montalbano was successful enough that a second series has been planned. Both this one and Endeavor were scheduled to start filming their second series in late 2013, so it’ll be interesting to see what the new episodes are like.
Prequels can give readers a chance to really get to know their beloved sleuths better. And the potential for financial success with prequels is undeniable. Besides, they can make for interesting stories. But for lots of people, prequels just aren’t the same as the originals, and they aren’t keen on them.
What about you? Do you like prequels? If you’re a writer, would you do a prequel for your protagonist?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Coldplay’s The Scientist.