When a series of books is particularly popular, there’s often a push to keep the series going once its original author has retired from writing or has passed away. When that happens, another author sometimes takes up the proverbial mantle and continues the series. Some people argue that this makes sense; it means that readers can continue to enjoy a beloved series or character. More pragmatically, it also means that the series can continue to sell. Many people, though, don’t like the idea of having another author continue a series. After all, it’s the original author who created the series, and when that particular author is out of the picture, the series is never quite the same.
Historian Larry Millett has used his knowledge of the history of the Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota area and his fascination with Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes to write a series of Sherlock Holmes novels. Millett’s own creation, Minnesota bartender and P.I. Shadwell Rafferty, works with Holmes and Watson in Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Alliance, Sherlock Holmes and the Ice Palace Murders, and other novels. The setting of these stories is the Minneapolis/St. Paul area rather than London, so Conan Doyle purists may be disappointed. On the other hand, many readers enjoy the Shadwell Rafferty character on his own merits, and the mysteries themselves are carefully constructed and believable.
Agatha Christie is said to have disliked the idea of someone else creating new stories for her sleuths, so she herself wrote the last stories involving Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple and stored them safely during World War II so that if she didn’t survive the war, her series would end as she wanted them to end. There have, though, been some adaptations of her work. With the permission of Christie’s heirs, Charles Osborne has adapted some of her plays (Black Coffee, Spider’s Web,and The Unexpected Guest) as novels. This decision has introduced millions of new readers to those stories and to Christie’s work and, I’m sure, motivated many readers to look up and read the original plays and perhaps see them when they are produced. On the other hand, the adaptations are not Christie’s own work. There are differences between the way Christie adapted her own writing (e.g. the play The Witness for the Prosecution was adapted from a short story she’d written) and the way Osborne has adapted her work. That makes sense, of course, since they are different writers.
Dorothy Sayers’ last Lord Peter Wimsey novel was 1937’s Busman’s Honeymoon, in which newlyweds Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey visit Tallboys, a country home that Wimsey’s bought for his bride. Instead of a peaceful honeymoon, though, the two get caught up in a murder investigation when the body of the property’s former owner is found in the basement. After Sayers’ death, an unfinished manuscript was found among her papers. Plans for completing the manuscript Thrones, Dominations were finally put into action when English novelist Jill Paton Walsh was approached in 1996 by the literary trustees of Sayers’ estate. Walsh was commissioned to complete Thrones, Dominations and subsequently went on to write two more Wimsey/Vane novels. Sayers had left behind a set of notes that Walsh has used as the basis for those novels, so on one hand, those novels are quite true to the original characters. On the other, a purist would argue that they are not Sayers’ own work.
With the permission of Rex Stout’s estate, journalist Robert Goldsborough wrote a series of seven Nero Wolfe novels between 1986 and 1994. Goldsborough made some changes to the original Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin context, mostly to keep up with the times. For example, in some of Goldsborough’s novels, Goodwin uses a personal computer for record-keeping. The famous elevator that carries Nero Wolfe among the floors of his brownstone has been updated in the Goldsborough novels, too. On one hand, these updates can make a series appealing to a whole new group of readers. On the other, there are differences between Rex Stout’s writing and Robert Goldsborough’s writing. Those who are true fans of Stout’s particular approach to the series may be disappointed in Goldsborough’s novels.
Sometimes, the proverbial mantle is passed to member of the author’s family. That’s what happened in the case of Dick Francis, who wrote more than 42 mystery novels, including the famous Sid Halley series. What a lot of people didn’t know was that he worked closely with his wife Mary Benchley as he wrote. Five years after her death, Francis’ son Felix, who’d been managing his father’s financial affairs, was approached about having a new co-author work on some fresh novels. Felix Francis decided that instead of choosing a new author, he’d like to do the job himself. So Dick and Felix Francis worked together on several of Francis’ last novels. Sadly, Dick Francis passed away in 2010, and it will be very interesting to see whether Felix Francis decides to carry on his father’s mystery/thriller tradition.
Lilian Jackson Braun was in the process of writing The Cat Who Smelled Smoke, her 30th Cat Who… novel when she passed away. As of the date this post is published, I don’t know whether anyone will be commissioned to finish the novel and if so, who will do the writing. But I’ll be very curious to see whether it happens. But what do you think? Do you think a series should end with the retirement or passing of its creator? Or do you think the proverbial mantle can be passed along? If you’re a writer, how do you feel about your characters living on in others’ writing?